Tag

Decision-Making Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

614: Making Smarter Decisions When You Can’t Know Everything with Annie Duke

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Annie Duke says: "All decision-making is forecasting of the future."

Poker champion Annie Duke shares tools to improve your decision-making process and your ability to predict the future.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why your decisions still matter, even when you don’t call the shots
  2. The shift in language that leads to more open conversations
  3. How a pros and cons list tricks us into making worse decisions

About Annie

Annie Duke is an author, corporate speaker, and consultant in the decision-making space. Annie’s latest book, How to Decide: Simple Tools for Making Better Choices, is available on October 15, 2020 from Portfolio, a Penguin Random House imprint. Her previous book, Thinking in Bets, is a national bestseller. As a former professional poker player, Annie won more than $4 million in tournament poker before retiring from the game in 2012. Prior to becoming a professional player, Annie was awarded a National Science Foundation Fellowship to study Cognitive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. 

Annie is the co-founder of The Alliance for Decision Education, a non-profit whose mission is to improve lives by empowering students through decision skills education. She is also a member of the National Board of After-School All-Stars and the Board of Directors of the Franklin Institute. In 2020, she joined the board of the Renew Democracy Initiative. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

  • Pitney Bowes. Simplify your shipping while saving money. Get a free 30-day trial and 10-lb shipping scale at pb.com/AWESOME.
  • Rise.com. Build your team’s learning library–the fast and fun way–with Rise.com/awesome 

Annie Duke Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Annie, welcome back to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Annie Duke
I’m excited to be back. It’s been a while.

Pete Mockaitis
It has. Well, yeah, just looking at that, it’s been over two years. Wow, time is flying, because I still remember many of the things you said kind of closely, like, “Want to make a bet?”

Annie Duke
Nice.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, it seemed closer. So, yeah, I’m excited to dig into some wisdom you’ve formulated in your latest book How to Decide. But, first, I think we need to hear, we know about you being a poker champion, but I just recently learned that you’re also a Rock Paper Scissors Champion and I want to hear the whole story.

Annie Duke
Oh, my gosh. There’s, like, literally so little story to this. It sounds much more amazing and glamorous than it actually is. At the World Series of Poker one year, some friends of mine, like, they organized a Rock Paper Scissors World Championship which was designed like March Madness. And I quickly went over and asked my friend for some rock paper scissors advice, which he gave me, and I ended up winning.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good advice. So, what’s the trick?

Annie Duke
Well, first of all, a lot of luck. Well, the trick that he told me and, listen, I’m not certifying this advice, it happened to have worked for me, is that you should be thinking about how you can tie with the person. So, it’s a little bit like anything else that you’re playing that’s like that. You want to try to get into the other person’s head and think about what they might be throwing. So, if they’re throwing scissors, you should be trying to throw scissors back.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so…

Annie Duke
And I think the reason for that is that if they were thinking about you being able to predict them, which is where people’s heads go, so if I’m thinking about throwing scissors, I’m worried about you throwing rock. So, if I changed my mind, I’m going to go to paper, but scissors beat paper. So, I think that’s what it is. It’s sort of you’re going those levels deep, that “The person is thinking I’m throwing scissors but what if they know?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Annie Duke
“And if they know, then I want to figure out something that’s going to beat that.” And so, when you’re shifting off of your original intention, you’ll lose to the tie.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man, there are so many layers here.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve looked a little bit in the world of championship rock paper scissors play, and I understand some people will just pre-memorize a script, like, “I’m going to go rock and then scissors,” and then just roll with it regardless of what you’re doing.

Annie Duke
Yeah. So, I’ve used that strategy before. So, basically, what you’re saying there is, “I don’t want to be predictable,” so you would do this if you thought that your opponent was actually quite good. In other words, so you felt like you couldn’t predict your opponent then you would want to go to, essentially, a random number generator. So, that’s basically what they’re doing. They just write down a script in advance, and they’re just saying, “If I’m not reacting to what they’re doing or reacting, whatever, then you can’t predict me.” So, the way that I did that, there was one…I don’t know if it was in that tournament, it might have been another one. I took out a dollar bill.

Pete Mockaitis
So, there’s multiple Rock Paper Scissors tournaments under your belt.

Annie Duke
Two. So, what I did, I think I came against somebody who I thought was actually quite good at rock paper scissors, and so I took out a bill. I just had like a stack of bills, like dollar bills, and basically that would give me a serial number, it’s like 10 numbers or something. That would give me 10 throws. So, I had like, if it was zero, one or two, I would throw rock. If it was three, four, five, I would throw scissors. And if it was six, seven, eight, I would throw paper. And then I ignored nine and moved one. So, it was that kind of thing, so that ends up accomplishing the exact same thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. So, you’re champion in the one. And how did the other one go?

Annie Duke
I think I got to like the semifinals maybe.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s what I find so intriguing. It suggests that if it’s repeatable that you’re doing well, then it seems like there’s more than pure chance at work here.

Annie Duke
Well, I think it’s probably just, you know, I played a lot of poker so I sort of crawl into people’s heads a lot. And so, I think that I’m probably maybe better than the average Joe of figuring out what your patterns are, what you’re likely to be doing. And if you can do that, obviously, you can defend against it. But then you also have to have this kind of second-order knowledge of, “What if I’m against somebody who might be better than me at that?” then you can go to a random strategy.

And I think what happened was, I think I lost in the semifinals or the finals, but it was starting in the semifinals, or the round before that, that I used the random strategy. And I know I won one or two rounds with the random strategy where I felt like I’d come across somebody who was really good. And then, by the way, it really frustrates your opponent because they want to be able to apply their skill. And so, if they’re really good, then you take out a dollar bill, they realized that you’ve completely unarmed them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s intriguing. And I read that they made a robot that can win rock paper scissors every time but it’s cheating. It’s like it catches what you’re going to do like a split second.

Annie Duke
Well, that’s not really winning now, is it?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it could cheat at rock paper scissors perfectly.

Annie Duke
Great. Yeah, a cheating robot. You know what we really need to add to this dystopia right now? Cheating robots.

Pete Mockaitis
Cheating robots.

Annie Duke
We could just add cheating robots into the mix.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, more headlines. More headlines to trigger anxiety. Okay. Cool. Well, that was fun. Let’s talk about decision-making when there’s more than…

Annie Duke
Well, we just did.

Pete Mockaitis
We did, how to win rock paper scissors under different circumstances. Well, so I love dorking out about decision-making tools. And I’d love it if, hey, there are some listeners who are not yet as enthused as you and I, can you make the case for the benefits professionals can enjoy with enhanced decision-making skills? And maybe, specifically, or particularly, for those who think that, “You know, I don’t have a lot of decision-making authority at my role. I kind of got to do what I’m told,” what are the benefits to be had by being excellent at decision-making?

Annie Duke
Let me give you just sort of the broader point, which is there’s only two things that determine how your life turns out, and it’s left in the quality of your decision-making. That’s it. So, there’s a whole bunch of luck that happens in your life, like, “What year are you born in?” It matters that I was not born in 1600 for the outcome of my life. And, obviously, from my perspective or from your perspective, coronavirus is a matter of luck. I assume you did not create the virus and distribute it.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Annie Duke
But maybe that’s a bad assumption.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I guess there’s decisions you make associated with how much you’re going to go out, what measure you’re taking.

Annie Duke
Right. Exactly. So, that’s a good example, the two things that matter. There’s a whole bunch of luck that has to do with coronavirus, like the wrong human, to steal that line from Contagion. Then there are decisions that you can make given that that luck has occurred, and that’s the only thing that you have control over. And the better that your decisions are, the better your life is going to turn out.

So, I mean, that’s literally the simplest argument, which is it’s the one thing that you have control over that will actually have an actual real impact on the way that your life is going to turn out. Now, I understand that someone may, in a business setting, not be the ultimate decider, but the better your decisions, the more likely that you’re going to accomplish your goals within that environment. And there’s a few ways that you can think about it.

One is, of course, that you’re responsible for your own decisions. And one would hope that the better your decisions are, the more it maps onto your ability to actually move up the ladder or accomplish the goals that you’re trying to get to professionally. And you want to become more educated, and you want to implement a better process just literally for yourself. That’s number one.

Number two, there are certain things, there are certain behaviors that you can engage in that actually will start to get implemented in the people around you. In other words, you do have some influence even if you’re not the ultimate decider. You have some influence over the people around you that you can start to sort of get some of these really good decision-making skills and tools into a group setting.

And the last thing is, honestly, like, let’s say that I’m in a crappy situation with a bad boss, and they don’t really listen to anybody, and I don’t like the situation I’m in, that’s actually, in some ways, a more important time to be a good decision-maker because you need to be able to navigate those situations well. You need to decide when you want to stay or when you want to go, “Do I want to quit? Do I not want to quit? What can I do about this to make my situation better and actually to be able to thrive in an environment that’s an unhappy environment?”

Because, in a variety of ways, we can all end up in environments that are really unhappy where there are external forces that are making it very hard for us to thrive. And, while that is true and we want to be able to work to be able to change the situation that we’re in as much as we can, sometimes we have very little control over that, so you want to sort of grab onto like, “What are the things that I do actually have control over and improve those?” because those little changes will compound over time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s exciting. And so then, it sounds about as important as it could get in terms of what we can control that will impact everything in life, in career and happiness, decision-making enhances. So, could you maybe inspire us? Could you share a story of someone who, they thought their decision-making was fine, but then they adopted some of your tools and approaches and, boy, they saw some awesome results with their enhanced decision-making?

Annie Duke
If I were to think about this from prior to getting into a business setting, from a poker setting, the fact is that in order for me to improve my poker playing, what I have to do is to be able to think about, “What kind of were my predictions of the world?” and then try to figure out, “How did the actual outcomes that I got mapped onto my predictions of the world, what were the other ways that I might’ve thought about the hand?” And then I need to be able to talk to people in a way that’s going to expose to me the ways in which they may have differences of opinion with me, because the differences of opinion are where things get really interesting, right? Like, if you and I believe the earth is round, that’s pretty interesting, like, “Okay, the earth is round.” You’ll find that out.

Pete Mockaitis
“I also agree.” Conversation over.

Annie Duke
Yeah. But if I found that you think it’s flat, and I think it’s round, that’s like a humongous opportunity. And your listeners may be saying, like, “Well, how is that an opportunity for the person who believes that the earth is round?” which is a very common response for that. Isn’t that only an opportunity for the person who thinks the earth is flat? And I have a couple of answers to that.

Number one is things aren’t usually as clear as “We know that the earth is round, not flat.” We’re usually talking about things that are much more subjective, like which candidate to hire. And you believe we should hire candidate B, and I think I should hire candidate A, and we don’t know what the truth is, right? Not in the same way of round and flat, and so we need to have that discussion in order to get to the discovery that the earth is round. That’s the first piece.

But the second piece is that even when we hold opinions that are generally maybe are even true, it’s actually helpful for me to actually have to defend those against somebody that believes that the earth is flat. I don’t know about you but my arguments for why the earth is round would be super weak, like, things like, “Scientists say so, and I saw the pictures,” which are not particularly good arguments.

So, by having to actually be able to explain it to you, I’m actually going to know my own position better. So, what I was trying to do as a poker player was actually find out where there are areas of disagreement. So, when I actually work with teams, most of what I’m trying to do is that, and that’s how we’re improving decisions because what we’re doing is we have processes that are in place by which we can talk about, which allow for you to surface the dispersion of opinion as opposed to linger over the agreement.

Now, I’m sure you’ve been in lots of meetings where basically what happens is somebody says something and then everybody goes around the room and says, “I just want to double-click on what Pete said because I have my own reasons for believing the thing that he said, and I also would like to reiterate the same reasons that he said those things.” And you sort of go around the room, and then I guess everybody feels pretty good about themselves. But what you’ve really done is said, “I think the earth is round,” “I think the earth is round,” “I think the earth is round,” “I think the earth is round,” which is not particularly good for informing a group. It’s not good for informing a decision. It’s not going to actually improve decision-making at all.

So, what I’m trying to do with groups is get them to surface the areas where they disagree, where there’s actual dispersion of opinion, and then spend most of their time on that, really exploring that. By the way, not with the goal that they end up agreeing because when you’re talking about subjective things, like candidate A or candidate B, you actually shouldn’t expect agreement. And if you do get to agreement, probably somebody is actually not agreeing, they’re giving in, which is a really different thing. But we want those different viewpoints to collide, and then that really improves the decision-making.

Now, it turns out that when you really do a good job of surfacing the dispersion in the first place, you also create this amazing record of why you think what you do, why you want the decision that you want, what you think is going to be true of the world in the future. And this, then, has a huge impact on your decision-making because, after the world starts to unfold, as it does, like after the future starts to happen and become the present, you’ll have like an evidentiary record that you can go back and look at. And this now allows us to actually create really nice closed feedback loops where we actually know what we’re supposed to be looking for in order to become better calibrated in our decisions.

So, what I can tell you is that the groups that I work with, when we actually get these kinds of processes implemented, the quality of the conversation shoots through the roof, meetings are shorter, but more informative, which I think everybody would really like. And then the way that they’re actually thinking about dispersion, like, “What does it mean for somebody to disagree with you?” moves out of sort of the defensive world into the open-minded world because it really reinforces these ideas that the goal of a meeting is to inform not to agree. And then it actually helps them to much more quickly to recalibrate if their calibration is off because you can close these feedback loops really quickly, and actually more accurately.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that point you brought up about defensiveness there, and even the phrase dispersion of opinion, you know, feels emotionally a lot more comfortable than disagreement or conflicts.

Annie Duke
Well, that’s why I’m using that term actually.

Pete Mockaitis
Masterful. Good work.

Annie Duke
Yeah. So, it’s in my book, and I really recommend that people start to use this term, dispersion or divergence. Both of those words, I think, are really good. Where do we diverge? And where do we converge? Because I think disagreement has such a negative connotation. It sounds so combative. And when I feel like you disagree with me, it gets translated for us sort of just cognitively into like you’re attacking my identity as opposed to just like, “Oh, we have a disagreement about these things.” It feels like an attack on my identity.

And, generally, what happens is that when I view it through the lens of disagreement, I’m going to tend to shift into convince mode as opposed to convey mode. In other words, I’m going to want to bring you over to my side of the argument in order to certify my beliefs and certify my identity, and so the way that I’m speaking to you is going to be meant to convince. It’s going to create a lot of interrupting, me saying, “Well, have you thought about this? So, you weren’t thinking about this data, or I think you’re wrong about this,” and so on and so forth. As opposed to like a real honest exploration of me trying to understand why you believe what you do.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, it’s funny, this reminds me of a time when it was way back, I think maybe in high school, in which I was arguing with somebody, and we had some friends and we just decided that they were going to be the jury, and we would make our case and advocate for our perspective. And it was kind of funny, it was kind of a joke, but it got a bit heated actually. And then when the jury left, it was just the two of us, and we just sort of chatted out with a completely different intention of, “Well, let’s sort of really see what kind of went on there and what we should do about it.” And it was just sort of like night and day in terms of “Are we trying to convince to win the argument as opposed to kind of collaboratively jointly discover what’s as accurate as possible?”

Annie Duke
Right. Yeah, exactly. And I think that the other thing that we need to realize when we’re dealing with things that are in the subjective world, so we’re not talking about “2+2=4” or, “The earth is round.” For most of the decisions we’re making in our lives and in a business setting, by the way, we’re talking about things where we’re trying to discover what is subjectively true, but what is subjectively true is not known so we’re having to go through the discovery process in order to get there.

And so, the idea that you somehow know the truth and you need to convince other people of your side is really, really unproductive, and it’s going to create that kind of thing. It actually makes more sense that the two of you convey why you believe what you do, and then you can walk away not agreeing. And that’s okay because you don’t need to.

If you think about, for example, if you and I are in a hiring committee, and I really care about whether I think the person is going to be a generous team member, like cooperative, generous, someone who doesn’t take credit for themselves but likes to share credit and things like that, and you care, all you care about is what their sales production is, right? Literally, you’re just a numbers person, right? That’s okay.

I don’t need to convince you of what my values are and you don’t need to convince me of what your values are because, by allowing those two perspectives to just sort of live and breathe, and for me to express why I believe what I do and why I think that’s important, and you can express what you believe and why you think that’s important, we’re probably going to hire a better candidate, because what’s going to happen is that’s now going to get expressed in our hiring rubric and who we actually end up bringing in.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that a lot. Well, so we’ve already covered some great tools and perspectives associated with in-group settings, how we can view it as a dispersion of opinion or divergence as oppose to a disagreement, and how we’re not trying to convince but to convey, and we’re all enriched as a result of having engaged in that.

I’d love to zoom into if it’s sort of an individual and it’s sort of I’ve got one person making decisions for himself or herself, and doing the research, and there’s not so much a collaborative exercise going on, what are some of the best tools in this context to make better individual decisions?

Annie Duke
Well, first of all, not a pros and cons list.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Annie Duke
Which I think most people might find kind of surprising, I know that. So, the thing about a really good decision tool, like if we were to think about what’s a great tool, decision tool or otherwise, like, if we think about a screwdriver, right, it should be accomplishing the purpose that it’s meant to accomplish. So, like if I want to get a screw to actually go in the wall in a way that’s going to be safe and actually accomplish the job…

Pete Mockaitis
Ergonomic. Convenient.

Annie Duke
Yes. Which is why I want to be able to use a screwdriver as opposed to a hammer or a jack hammer. So I want the right tool for the right purpose. But here’s also the really important thing about a tool is that I need to be able to repeat the use in a way that’s going to create really high fidelity. And then I also need to be able to hand it to somebody else and then explain it to them so that they could actually use that tool in the exact same way.

So, when we sort of understand that we see where decision tools really go awry. So, like, “Your gut is not a decision tool.” “Well, why?” “Because I can’t actually look at it and explain it to you, right?” That’s where we’ll go. “Well, my gut told me so,” and you’re like, “Okay, but that doesn’t really…I can’t use your gut.” Right? But you know what I mean. It’s like, “Okay, but I can’t actually examine to see whether you screwed that in well, and then you can’t explain to me exactly how you got that screw in the wall, or what you were doing. And I can’t actually repeat that process because it’s a black box.”

So, a pros and cons list, in some sense, certainly is a tool in the sense that we know its purpose is to get you to decide about whether you want to proceed with an option. And I could actually sort of teach you it in a structural sense. So, that’s all okay. So, we’re getting part of the way there. It’s certainly better than gut. But here’s what that tool lacks that will actually reveal what the kinds of tools are that we actually want to be using.

So, the first thing that it lacks is that it’s a list, literally a list, which means that it’s flat. So, what do I mean by flat? It’s flat in two ways. One is that when we think about something that’s on the pro side or something on the con side, we don’t have a sense of the magnitude. So, it could be like I could get a hangnail and I could die. So, those are both there, because all I sort of have is this list.

And so, that’s one of the first problems is that sort of the magnitude of how positive the things on the pro side are, in terms of achieving your goals, is not actually anywhere explicit in the list, and the magnitude of how negative the cons are, it’s also not existing in the list. So, that gives us hint number one, is that we want to have an idea of this magnitude if we’re going to have a really good decision tool.

The second piece is that we also don’t have a sense of the probability of those things occurring.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Annie Duke
So, if we have a con, that’s like, “Well, I could lose $10,000,” you would want to know, “But how likely is that to occur?” Right? So, you could have a pro, which is like, “I could win a million dollars.” You could do this with the lottery, right? But the con could be, “I’m going to lose a dollar or two dollars,” and the pro is, “I could win the jackpot, so maybe that looks pretty good.” But what we need to understand is, “What’s the probability of winning the jackpot?” which is de minimis, versus “What’s the probability of me losing the two dollars?” which is basically every time.

And if we don’t have that information, it’s also incredibly hard to compare. So, when we see that, what happens is it becomes very hard to understand whether an option is good or not, and then we get into the problem of how on earth would you compare options. Like, if I had one option that had 10 cons and 2 pros, would that be worse than an option that had 5 cons and 4 pros? Well, I don’t know because I don’t know what the magnitude of those pros are and cons, and I don’t know the probability of those things occurring is, so it’s hard for me to compare.

And then we have this added issue, which is that it’s basically, literally, a tool for expressing your bias, like your cognitive bias, because you can imagine that you can take something that could sort of be one pro or one con, and you could divide it up into its little bits in order to create ten ways to express that. So, the con could be like, “Well, I might end up like really unhappy,” so that would be one, but it could also be like…

Pete Mockaitis
“I could be anxious. I could be stressed. I could be disappointed.”

Annie Duke
Exactly. Right. And now, all of a sudden, it’s ten things, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Annie Duke
So, what ends up happening is that as we’re sort of exploring those pros and cons, generally, as we’re entering into a decision, we’re already sort of somewhere in our head kind of know what our opinion is and know what we would like to be true, and then we do the pro and con list, and all it’s doing is kind of like expressing whatever that opinion already is, but it’s certifying it as objective when it’s not actually objectively. And that’s actually a super bad combination.

And you can see how this is a problem, like particularly if we’re trying to compare options because we’re going to do it just by list. And so, the option we don’t want to do, we can just create a lot of cons for. The option that we do want to do, we want to create a lot of pros for. So, that’s sort of through the negative frame of like, “Here’s a tool that everybody really understands,” that turns out to be sort of the equivalent of taking a jack hammer to get a screw in the wall. Okay, so we don’t want to do that. We’re going to ruin the wall.

So, that tells us, “Okay, so what does a good decision process going to do?” Well, it’s going to solve this problem of sort of dimensionality. So, for any option we’re considering, we want to think about what the likely outcomes of that option are. But then we want to think about how much is that option going to advance us toward our goal or way. So, that gets that idea of the payoff, what’s the magnitude of how good or bad we consider that option is for us. But then we want to take a stab at what the likelihood of those things occurring is.

And what that allows us to do is understand, for example, like in the startup world, you may have a really high likelihood of failure but the payoff is so large that if that payoff is likely enough, you would still do it despite the fact that mostly it’s going to be bad outcomes. But that’s okay because we’ve added this likelihood piece in, and we’ve added sort of like what does the payoff look, and we can start to bring that into our decision-making. And you can see that that now gives us a real way to compare our two options, because now we have a pretty clear sense of what’s the upside potential and the downside potential, and, “Does the upside outweigh the downside given whatever I’m willing to risk?” And then I can now compare those two things.

So, like a simple example would be, like let’s say that I have two candidates that I’m thinking about hiring, A and B, and I really, really care about retention, like my recruitment costs are out of control and I’ve got all these employee turnover, so this is something that I happen to be focusing on. And so, what I can do is I can say, “I want to think about kind of these three buckets that the person that I’m hiring is going to be with the company between zero to six months, six months to 18 months, beyond 18 months. Let’s say that we set those three things up.

And then, basically, what I can do is just have anybody on the hiring committee, for any candidate that we see, to say, “What do you think the probability of those three buckets is?” because that’s what I really care about, right? And now I actually have an apples-to-apples comparison. So, I’ve thought about, “What are my values? What are the payoffs that I’m trying to get? I want this person to stay here a long time. And I’m looking for the person who is going to stay here the longest. That’s what I care about.” And now I have a way to actually compare options.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so we covered some of the shortcomings of the pro-con list, we got it captured very clearly the magnitude of things, and the probability of those things occurring. And so then, I’m imagining kind of just a spreadsheet by this point in terms of I’ve got a few things, I’ve got some magnitude, I’ve got some probabilities. And I guess it gets a little tricky if it’s not just money in terms of like, “How do I put a number on my stress?” How do you do that?

Annie Duke
Well, so I think that it’s really interesting. When we get into things that we feel are more subjective, we think that we actually don’t know anything and so, therefore, we shouldn’t try, “What’s the probability I’m going to be stressed?” Or it doesn’t even have to be something that’s like so clearly subjective like stress, but like what’s the probability a candidate is going to be with a company, is going to leave within six months? Well, we don’t know. We’ve never hired that candidate before.

So, in the sense of, “Can I be exact?” or if I’m releasing a software feature and I want to know, like, “Oh, of the people who use my product, how many of them are going to start adopting this, like, the daily users of this new feature within the first month?” Obviously, these aren’t things that are like 2+2=4, and they’re not things like if I flipped a coin, it’s going to land heads 50% of the time where like I know for sure what the answer is because we have enough information.

What people end up doing in that case is very often just saying, “Well, I’m not going to try because I can’t come up with ‘the right answer.’”

And the problem with that is that then we just sort of get we get mired in the limitations of our own sort of lack of knowledge instead of thinking about, “Well, I want to be an educated guesser, and my goal as a decision-maker is actually to get more educated because I have all these uncertainty in trying to forecast the future?” which is really what we’re doing when we’re saying, “What are the possibilities or the probabilities and things like that?”

There’s all this uncertainty in my ability to forecast the future, but the more educated I am, while I may never get perfect, I’m going to get closer to the range of what is objectively true if I were omniscient, and that’s actually going to improve my decision-making. So, I can do an example of this with you. My computer is sitting on a stack of books. Now, obviously, you can’t see the books because it’s what my computer is sitting on. I’m on the computer looking at each other, so you don’t know how high the books are and you don’t know what type and you don’t know what number, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Annie Duke
Okay. So, how much does the stack of books weigh?

Pete Mockaitis
About five pounds.

Annie Duke
Okay. And what do you think the lowest amount of the stack of books weighs is? Do you think it’s possible this stack of books that it’s sitting on could weigh a pound?

Pete Mockaitis
I think it’d be improbable that a stack, implying multiple books, weighs less than one pound.

Annie Duke
Okay. Could it weigh 200 pounds?

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Annie Duke
Okay. So, I think this is really good, right? So, what we discovered is that you could’ve said, “I don’t know.” But what I just did was I said, “Well, but you know things about books.” And so, while you may not get the exact answer, you’re going to get an answer that eliminates a huge number of possibilities. In other words, it’s going to get you somewhere closer to what’s actually true of the stack of books that my computer is sitting on. And that’s a really important exercise and it’s a really important exercise for three reasons that I hinted at.

Reason number one is that the more accurately you’re thinking about the future, in other words, “Can you get in a target range?” Like, if you think about it like an archer. And, in fact, in the book I talk about like the archer’s mindset, right? Yes, you’d like to hit the bullseye but you get points for hitting the target. And the closer that you can get to hitting that bullseye the better off you are, but you’re still getting points. It’s like you still get points for showing your work, right?

So, even if you hit the outer edge of the target, you still get points because all the stuff that isn’t on the target, like you know that these books don’t weigh 200 pounds, is going to help you to actually have better decision quality because you’re eliminating all these different possibilities that the answer could be that’s going to clarify your decision and get you better at sort of calculating, really, in the end what’s the expected value of the decision. Like, how much upside potential compared to downside potential do I really think there is? So, that’s number one is that you’re going to be creating a more accurate view of the future even if it’s not perfect, and that’s good.

The second thing is that, which I had hinted at before, is that we have this problem as decision-makers, which is, generally, the stuff that we know is like so tiny it could fit on the head of a pin compared to the stuff we don’t know, which is like the size of the universe. Obviously, if you have the ideal decision tool, which I think would be a crystal ball, you would be set because that universe stuff that you didn’t know would be revealed to you in this psychic instrument that you have that caused an omniscience and an ability to foresee the future, but we don’t have a crystal ball. So, what we’re really trying to do is, “How can we create a set of tools that will allow us to cobble together something that is crystal ball-like?” And part of that is dealing with this problem that there’s this whole universe of stuff that I don’t know.

And by forcing yourself to guess, I made you think about that. I made you think, “What do I know about books?” so you’re exploring that world of things that you do know in order to try to make yourself get the educated into the guess, and then you may, in other cases, start thinking, “Well, what is the universe of stuff that I don’t know? And maybe that would actually help me with my guess.” So, like if we went back to something as simple as a hiring example. One of the things that we might do is say, “Well, maybe I could go find out how many candidates, like when companies hire into this particular position, what the average retention in the industry is.” That’s called a base rate. And that would be incredibly helpful for me to go find out as I’m trying to estimate what I think any candidate that I might see is.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the candidates I see are going to be right there on the base rate, but it’s going to give me a place to anchor to about kind of what’s true of the world in general that’s really going to help me. The other thing that I might do is to go ask for somebody else’s perspective where we know that two people can be looking at the exact same data and come to very different conclusions about it, right? So, I could ask one person, “What do you think these books weigh?” and then I could ask somebody else, “What do you think these books weigh?” And maybe you said five pounds, maybe they say 20 pounds. Great. Now, we go back to that earth is round and flat thing, and now I get Pete who’s the five-pound person and Susan who’s the 20-pound person to have a discussion about why they have that dispersion of opinion that’s probably going to get me closer to what the most educated answer would be, closer to what’s objectively true of the world. And that actually like incredibly important.

So, whether you’re forecasting, like, “What’s my stress level going to be?” or, “How long is someone going to be with the company?” or, “How many users are going to adopt this on a daily basis within the first month?” all of these things, which we’re lacking information about, not allowing yourself, “Well, how could I ever know that?” and not accepting that as an answer, is actually really crucial to a good decision process.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I think that’s a great perspective in terms of you don’t know it exactly but knowing it’s more than one pound and less than 20 pounds is way, way more narrow than it could be anything.

Annie Duke
Oh, my gosh. Right. And I think I make the point in the book that this is part of the reason why we want to communicate with precision.

So, I think I make the point that if I say 2+2 is a small number, I’m technically correct but it’s going to be harder for you to tell me things that might help correct my inaccuracy is because the target area is kind of broad that I’ve given you, and it’s going to be hard for me to get better at math. Now, I’m going to get somewhat better because if I say 2+2 is a very large number, you’re going to be able to correct that. So, it’s not that I can’t improve, but it’s going to slow down my improvement that I’m not willing to give an exact answer, like 4, right? And there’s ways, obviously, if I’m not being precise that I can game it because I can say 2+2 is somewhere between minus infinity and positive infinity and, okay, I’m technically right. But what is that value of the information there in terms of actually improving my decision-making because, if you think about it, this is the reason why a crystal ball would be such an amazing decision tool is because all decision-making is forecasting of the future.

When I make a choice, when I pick an option, what I’m saying is that, “I think that given whatever goals I have and what my values are and my resources are that this option is going to be the most likely to create the type of future that I would like to unfold, and so I am being like a soothsayer in that sense. I’m making a prediction about the future.” And what we’re trying to do is make those predictions higher quality.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, tell me, Annie, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Annie Duke
Yeah, I think I’d like to just say, like, just one really important decision tool, when we’re thinking about, “How are we actually getting a better view of the future? How do we actually become better fortune tellers?” Those are what we’re trying to do. And I just want to give a real pitch for a decision tool that I think is somewhat counterintuitive, at least in popular culture, which is the power of negative thinking as opposed to the power of positive thinking.

So, the power of positive thinking is like so incredibly powerful in the literature from Napoleon Hill.

We know about The Power of Positive Thinking, and it’s very popular which is you imagine a destination that you’d like to get to, and then you imagine success along the way. And I think that that’s a really bad decision tool, and I’m not saying that people should not imagine positive goals. Of course, you should. But the whole key to unlocking decision-making is to imagine the obstacles, the ways in which you might fail along the way. Why? Because that is the only way you can avoid them.

So, the way that I kind of think about it is the difference between a paper map and Waze. A paper map, you look at the destination you want to get to and then its clear roads. And I think about that as the power of positive thinking, right? Like, “Here are the clear roads, and now I’m just going to go along my merry way along those roads.” But what does Waze do? Waze says, “Here’s the destination you want to get to. And, by the way, there’s a road closure over here, and there’s like an accident on this one, and there’s heavy traffic over here, and so I’m going to reroute you so that you can actually successfully get to your destination.”

And I think the problem with the positive thinking literature is that sometimes it’s explicitly stated when you get into some sort of cookier versions of it, like The Secret, but it’s certainly implied in all of it that if you imagine failure, that it’ll actually create failure. But what an app like Waze tells us is that if you imagine failure, it actually creates success because that is the only way that you can get out ahead of it. And the more that you can identify the obstacles that might lie in your path, the better off you’re going to be because you’re going to have a clear view of the future, and you’re going to have a clear view of the kinds of things that you might want to avoid, the kind of things that might get in your way.

So, one of the best decision tools that you can use is called a premortem. And it was originally developed by Gary Kline. I have an adapted version of it in the book. And, essentially, what it asks you to do is to imagine a goal or a decision that you’re making which has an implied goal that it will work out, and imagine that it’s however long it would take for you to know whether you’ve reached a goal. So, let’s say that you have a goal to increase sales by 10% in the next year. And so, you imagine it, a year and a date from now, and you failed to reach that goal, and you ask yourself, “Okay, why did that happen? Why did I fail?” And you divide it into two categories: matters of your own decision-making, “What are the decisions that I made that may have led to this failure?” and then matters of luck.

And, as I recommend with everything, you try to figure out how likely those things are, and then you can actually figure out what to do about it. You may say, “Maybe I should change my goal,” or you may keep your goal, and you say, “Well, here are a bunch of decisions that I might make that really would cause me to fail, so let me try to figure out how not to make those so that I don’t actually engage in these kinds of behaviors.” If I want to lose weight, I have to figure out a way, because I know a point of failure is people bringing in cupcakes for their birthday. I need to figure out a way to not eat the cupcakes when that happens. I need to see that that’s on the horizon, and actually try to figure out how to avoid it.

And then with matters of luck, you can think about, “Are there ways, are there decisions that I can make that can reduce the probability of these bad things happening?” I can’t control the luck but I might be able to reduce the probability of those things occurring. And even if I can’t, maybe I can have a plan for it so that I’m not just running around like a chicken with my head cut off and so I can figure out what those are. And maybe I can find a hedge which is just like buying stocks and bonds at the same time. And if you don’t actually think about, “How can I instantiate this idea of sort plan positive, think negative?” into your decision process, you’re going to be constantly surprised by the world. You’re going to be using a paper map when everybody else is using really solid GPS. And we know that people who use paper maps have a disadvantage in terms of getting to destinations on time than people who use Waze, so don’t be the person still using a paper map as it applies to your own decision-making.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Well, now, could you share a quote, something you find inspiring?

Annie Duke
My favorite quote from Feynman just has to do with him saying, “If you can’t explain it to a child, you don’t actually know it yourself.” And this is a paraphrase of the quote obviously. But the reason why I like that so much is that it kind of really has to do with this idea of what makes for a really good tool, is I have to be able to explain it to you, and I have to explain it in simple terms.

And what I really love about that sort of second piece of not just, “Do I need to be able to hand you the screwdriver so that you can use it, but if I can’t explain it to you, I don’t really understand how to use a screwdriver.” And if I can’t do that, I butt up against the limits of what I know in a way that when we talk about that universal stuff we don’t know that we really want to be exploring, it makes me go look in that universe, and then I think it expands my knowledge, and everybody is better off for it because I explained to you how to use a screwdriver, and then I understand screwdrivers much better for having had to go through that process. And that’s why I love that Feynman quote so much.

Pete Mockaitis
And you might think I already know to screw nails on, or screw a screw, but sure enough you say, “You may have better experiences in terms of stripping them less often, giving them straight the first time, not having to redo stuff.”

Annie Duke
Right. When people are having success doing something, and they don’t start thinking about “What are the limits of my knowledge? And what are the limitations of the way that I’m thinking about this and my perspectives on the world?” what happens is that they get disrupted from without, and you’d rather be disrupted from within. So, you can look at IBM in the 1980s versus a Microsoft or Apple, and this is a big danger when you’re doing things pretty well, and your models of the world are pretty good.

But just as we talked about with things that are subjective, your model can be pretty good and it can be working, but that doesn’t mean that you have the objective truth. Like, you want to be exploring different ways that people could be looking at the problem, and always seeking new knowledge, and always sort of testing your ideas to see if there isn’t a better way, and also, sort of back to the idea of negative thinking and that causes you to have to sort of explore the limits of your own knowledge and your own ideas in a way that’s actually going to help you to improve them and disrupt your own ideas instead of allowing someone else to come in and disrupt you, which is something that we’re all trying to avoid.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Annie Duke
I’m just going to answer it by recent, right? So, I’m going to give you two favorite books right now, and then two that you should be looking out on the horizon. My two favorite books right now are Maria Konnikova, which is The Biggest Bluff which is amazing. It’s like a marriage of memoir and exploration of the influence of luck in your life. So, Maria decided she wanted to explore luck because she had just sort of stuff happened to her. Like, her husband lost his job, she got sick, I think one of her grandparents died, sort of like all at once, and she’s like, “Whoa,” and she wanted to explore it. So, she said she’s going to learn how to play poker from being a total novice.

She ended up really doing well. She won a huge poker tournament, and, it’s this really wonderful book. It’s really beautifully written and it’s a great exploration of just sort of the influence of luck in your life.

The other book that I’m really recommending right now is The Psychology of Money, which is by Morgan Housel, he’s so good with just kind of like taking really complex concepts and making them very understandable through really, really fun narrative. And he’s really just talking about, like, “What are the different ways that we think about money?” Like, what is money? It’s sort of an object that we can sort of explore and understand, like, “What is its purpose in our life? And how do we think about it? And what should we do about it and do with it?” It’s just a really fun book. I really think that everybody should be reading that book.

In terms of books on the horizon to have, to be on the lookout for. Katie Milkman, who’s a professor at Wharton, and has a book coming out in the spring called How to Change, which is incredible on just if you want to create better habits in your life, just understanding, “When does habit change occur? Why? What are the ways that you can sort of make that happen for yourself?” It’s a really wonderful book. It’s really fun.

And then Noise is going to be coming out soon from Kahneman, Cass Sunstein, Oliver Sibony, and I’m really excited about that. It’s like a contrast to Thinking, Fast and Slow which is more about cognitive bias, and this is just more about sort of noisiness in the system, and it’s a really good book. So, those are two for the horizon. And even winnowing it down, I gave you four, so I’m…

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Annie Duke
I would like people to practice, when soliciting opinions or feedback from somebody else, to try to not offer their own opinion first and see what happens. So, there’s this really big problem, like when we’re talking in the meeting sense about we all think that the goal of a meeting is to agree. That’s true one-on-one as well. It feels really to agree with people that you’re talking to, that’s why we end up in echo chambers.

So, your opinions are contagious. So, if I want to know what you think about like Perry Mason, which is on HBO, if I really want to know what you think, I should just say, “What do you think about Perry Mason?” But what we do is we say, “Oh, I watch Perry Mason. I thought it was really cool and interesting, and I think it was really fun to see his journey from detective to lawyer, and I like it that he was a flawed character as opposed to the Raymond Burr version. What do you think?” And that’s obviously something simple about a TV show that probably isn’t very impactful. But think about that in terms of when you’re really trying to get somebody’s help, is I’m not actually going to get your true perspective.

When we talked about surfacing the dispersion of opinion, how am I going to surface the dispersion of opinion if I offer you mine first? So, I really challenge people to start trying to implement that into their own life, and I think they’ll find that it really changes the communication, and how much you sort of get to what people really believe that can really spur these interesting conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. Well, Annie, I wish you lots of luck with your book How to Decide and all your decision adventures.

Annie Duke
Well, thank you very much. I’m so happy that we got to talk again.

574: How to Navigate Overwhelming Data and Choices to Make Optimal Decisions with Vikram Mansharamani

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Harvard lecturer Vikram Mansharamani discusses how to break free from blind thinking and make more impactful decisions.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The danger of deferring to experts and technology 
  2. Two critical steps for smarter decision-making
  3. How to better predict the future with “prospective hindsight” 

About Vikram

Financial Bubbles Before They Burst and his latest, THINK FOR YOURSELF: Restoring Common Sense in an Age of Experts and Artificial Intelligence. He is a frequent commentator on issues driving disruption in the global business environment, and his ideas and writings have appeared in Fortune, Forbes, the New York Times, Worth, and many other publications. LinkedIn listed him as the #1 Top Voice for Money, Finance, and Economics for both 2015 and 2016, and Worth magazine profiled him as one of the 100 most powerful people in global finance in 2017. In addition to teaching and writing, Mansharamani also advises several Fortune 500 CEOs on how to navigate uncertainty in today’s dynamic global business and regulatory environment. He holds a PhD and two master’s degrees from MIT as well as a bachelor’s degree from Yale University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Vikram Mansharamani Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Vikram, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Vikram Mansharamani
Thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your good stuff. We’re talking decision making. And I understand you’ve got a lot of decision making in a place many people say there’s no hope for good decisions, and that’s Las Vegas, and there are more than 50 times. What’s the story?

Vikram Mansharamani
Yeah, that’s a fascinating place to start here, Pete. I mean, Vegas is one of my real soft spots in life. I love everything about that city. I love the gaming. I love the restaurants. I love the pools. I love the hotels. I love the shows. I love the spas. The whole experience is just fabulous. The story as to why I went there so frequently is it was actually the topic of my dissertation.

So, I studied the gaming industry for my doctoral work at MIT. And I did that for various reasons, but the biggest reason was I was about to quit the PhD program at MIT that I was enrolled, and one of my professors and advisor, who I really trusted, who had become a mentor, said, “Vikram, that’s a really bad idea. You should get this done. What are you excited about? What do you enjoy? What wouldn’t feel like work to you?”

And I think I’d just gotten back from a trip to Las Vegas, perhaps with some college buddies, and I said, “You know what’s really fun? Las Vegas. I love Las Vegas.” And he said, “Why don’t you study the gaming industry?” And then there you go. So, it was research that took me to Vegas many of those times, but not all.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. So, I’m curious, in your gaming, are you up, are you down?

Vikram Mansharamani
I’m pretty sure I’m down but I think most people that do any amount of gaming end up down, but for me it’s the cost of entertainment. Look, there’s different ways to spend money to be entertained, and if I can do it socially sitting at a craps table with a bunch of friends and folks that I know, and have a nice time, and people give you some adult beverages while you’re there, that’s really the cost of entertainment.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. Well, now I want to dig into your wisdom, and your latest is called Think for Yourself I want to hear, what’s one of the most fascinating and surprising discoveries you’ve made about us humans and how we go about decision-making?

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, there’s a lot of surprises there but the fundamental truth is I think we tend not be rational in this strict model optimizing sense that some traditional economists think we are. And what does that mean? That means that we sometimes make decisions, as I’m sure you’re aware of through behavioral finance and behavioral economics thinking, based on emotions, or fairness, or some of these things that might not make sense from a strict economic perspective.

So, I think just the sort of seeming irrationality of the human being in decision-making context is in of itself kind of surprising where people do things that might not be in their obvious self-interest. And so, yeah, I think that’s probably one of them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, I’m so intrigued by your title there Think for Yourself because I think a lot of people would say, “Hey, I think for myself, Vikram. Come on, buddy.” So, when we’re not thinking for ourselves, what are we doing?

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, let me use a couple of examples, Pete. I think this will actually make it tangible, real, and I think the audience will appreciate this. Let’s say you get up in the morning, you’re getting into your car, you’re heading to a destination east of your current location. It happened to have snowed last night, the schools are closed, but since you’re not 100% sure where you’re heading, you put it into your GPS device or your Nav system in your car.

Now, the algorithm turns around and tells you, “Uh-oh, you’re going east to this location, but there’s an elementary school and it’s currently 8:30 in the morning. Yeah, we’re going to send you north to go around and then come down to the east.” Now, you pause and you think to yourself, “Huh, it’s probably because of the school there.” But the reason it’s suggesting to go around the school is because of the traffic at this time of the morning. You’ve done this before. You know that your system does that. You also know that the school is closed because of the bad weather on a snow day. Do you follow the device or not? There’s a simple question. I’ll give you one other example which may feel like it’s higher stakes.

You go to your cardiologist. Your cardiologist tells you, “You know what, Pete, I’m sensing a little bit of cholesterol levels creeping up on you here.” She happens to be younger than you, and she says, “You know what, I had the same problem. I’m starting to take this statin. I think you should take this statin. By the way, every other cardiologist here in the hospital complex, they’re taking a statin. My medical school peers, they’re all taking statins and I think you should take a statin.” Do you push back or do you take the statin?

And so, these are examples where we may not realize it but we’re not thinking for ourselves. We’re outsourcing our thinking to experts and technologies. And that may not always be bad but it’s something I think we should do mindfully rather than passively and sort of as a default setting.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, well, it’s funny, we’re talking about health issues, and as we speak, I am engaging the daunting process of shopping for health insurance since my wife is shifting to full-time mothering, and I am shifting onto adopting a tremendous financial burden in the United States. Wow!

Vikram Mansharamani
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you’re right. It’s like experts say stuff and it’s just like, “Well, geez, I don’t know. This seems like there’s a lot of complexity and it’s intricate and hard to get to the bottom and become super-knowledgeable about all my options. Well, hey, this is golden. It’s Blue Cross and it’s PPO and you all say it’s good. I guess that’s what I’m going to get.”

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, think about that, and what you’re getting at, which is actually how I start off most of my book here, is we are facing an environment of overwhelming data. And with overwhelming data, comes overwhelming choice. All of us have become conditioned to believe that more choice is better, that more choice lets us find the exact, optimal, perfect combination of features that was what we need. And the reality is we get overwhelmed by that choice.

We are sort of given this illusive ideal of perfection, and it’s never really achievable, leaving us with this low-grade fever of something we call FOMO. We’re missing out on that perfect choice, “There should be a perfect choice.” And so, what do we do? We run headlong into the arms of experts and technologies that promise us salvation from this anxiety of being overwhelmed by choice.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Yeah, that sounds like a fair synopsis of where we are right now. I buy it.

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, even just think about your medical insurance dilemma, right? I’m sure there’s an online choice aid that exists that says, “Well, how many dependents do you have? Do you think you want high deductible or low deductible? Do you like your doctor? Do you want to be in a network? Do you need referrals? Do you not want referrals? Do you just want to be able to go anywhere in a network?” All of these things create these permutations and combinations which overwhelm us. In fact, you wouldn’t be human if you weren’t overwhelmed, which is why we then go to people who promise us the hope. And, in the process, we actually stop thinking for ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so in a way, that’s a bit of a pejorative context or phrase in terms of, “Hey, you’re not thinking for yourself.” It seems like something, at least the way I interpret it, the emotional valence I’m sticking on it, is that to think for one’s self is a good and noble worthy thing. And to not think for one’s self is something that foolish sheep do, and they need to step up.

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, I’m going to get a little meta on you here. So, thinking for yourself, you may, in fact, think for yourself while outsourcing your thinking. But if you do it proactively, mindfully, then it’s okay, then you are, in fact, thinking for yourself when you’re letting someone else think for you if you proactively make that choice. It’s the default condition without thinking about how you’re making your choices that I have issues with. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t rely on experts or technologies. In fact, I’m suggesting the opposite. We should rely on experts and technologies but we should do so mindfully. We should keep them in their role where we are the lead actor. They can be supporting actors. And so, that’s really the objective.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so you gave us a couple of examples which make it real with regard to the GPS and the doctors. And so, where are some danger zones, specifically for professionals and career people, that it’s like, “Hey, timeout. You may not be thinking for yourself about these sorts of things, and you could be falling for these kinds of traps. Warning! Think about this.”

Vikram Mansharamani
Sure. Well, one area, I think, for career-oriented folks who are thinking about doing well in their jobs, climbing the corporate ladder, etc., advancing, is that we’ve developed this core belief system, I think, that expertise, core competence, unique skills, if you will, put capitals on all of those words, are the ultimate destination and the keys to rising in one’s career advancing as well as increasing your income.

And I want to suggest for a moment that actually breadth of perspective may be equal, if not more important than depth of expertise. And part of this has to do with the siloization that’s occurred of knowledge and how people make decisions. We tend to think of the world as broken down in domains. There’s a heart doctor, cardiologists, “Okay, I got to go see someone different for a different part of my body.” But the system is a whole.

And so, what I’m suggesting is rather than hang our hat on developing unique skills and depth of knowledge, I want to suggest that you can actually benefit from being broad, being an integrator of disparate ideas, being a generalist, if you will.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. Well, we had David Epstein on the show, and that was one of his key messages there.

Vikram Mansharamani
David is a good friend.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I think I buy it. So, how do you suppose we fall for the default assumption that specialization is where it’s at?

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, it has to do with the overwhelming amount of data, information, and complexity in our world, or how complicated it’s become. And so, the way most organizations deal with this is they silo people into working on parts of a problem. That’s how we try to do this. And so, as a result, we outsource our career trajectories often to the organizations within which we work. And a little pushback on that would be healthy.

And what it also means is reconceiving the concept of a career trajectory away from rising through a corporate ladder, perhaps thinking about it differently. Maybe it’s a corporate jungle gym and the best way to get to the top is not by going up on every step but by going laterally down to the left, to the right, down three steps, over, up. There may be a different way to get to the top.

Now, what does that practically mean? I mean, it’s a fun analogy to talk about a corporate jungle gym. But it may mean, all right, if you’re rising through the finance function of an organization, maybe it makes sense to stop and do a tour of duty in the marketing department. Possibly, take a demotion rather than a promotion and go into operations. Go run a factory. Possibly, come back and go involve with technologies or call centers or what have you. Develop a portfolio of skills through multi-functional, multi-geographic experiences that could possibly have you leapfrog the trajectories of those who stay within a silo. I guess that’s really what I’m getting at.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’ll tell you, in terms of a universal skill, which we’re all about here, that is handy across each of these functional and industry domains is just this, some of that decision-making smart thinking for yourself skills. So, I’d love to get your take then on some of the top do’s and don’ts in terms of, “Okay, if I have decided that I’m going to go about making some decisions, and I’m going to have the experts on tap, not on top…” one of your turns of phrase which I like, “…I’m going to receive input from them but I’m not going to let them just blindly call the shots,” how do you recommend we go out doing research, generating options, selecting the best option for us?

Vikram Mansharamani
Sure. Well, one of the things that I think is absolutely critical, Pete, is people should spend more time paying attention to the context. Far too often, we focus on what’s in front of us and where we’ve shone the spotlight and not on the related contextually developments that may impact even our decision choices, even the possible selections we can make. So, I think paying attention to the context matters.

Now, again, that sounds very abstract. Let’s make it real. Let’s say you’re in the world of retailing. Do you pay attention to US-China relations? “Maybe. It seems kind of like general knowledge. Is it going to impact me? Is it not going to impact me? I don’t know. I’m in a retail sector. I’m local.” If you’re paying attention to political developments. Obviously, we know there’s an election in the United States, but do we know what’s happening in the political dynamics of our largest trading partners or what have you? Maybe that’s going to potentially come home to impact us. So, advice piece number one is pay attention to context.

Number two, I always encourage people making tough decisions to make sure you get some disagreement in the advice you get. Don’t go out and seek the same advice that you know is confirming your already pre-existing inclinations. Seek disagreement. That’s something that far too few people do this.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s a great perspective but, boy, it’s a frustrating one. I’m thinking back to I had to get a new roof for my home, and I don’t know about roofing, but I had a heck of a hard time just getting anyone to show up and do something it seems in the realm of home renovation. So, I thought, “Well, I better just call 20 roofers so that I can get three quotes.” But I got like nine to show up and weigh in on the matter.

And then it was, huh, boy, it was complex and overwhelming because it’s sort of like, okay, well, this guy costs twice as much as that guy. But why? Is he doing more? Is he better? Is it higher quality? This person says I absolutely have to have it torn off and redone, and that one says, “No, no, no, you don’t need to do that. You can just put another layer.” And this one says, “You don’t even need a layer.” I can just get a sealing and a coating.

And so, it’s like, “Why am I, the person who does not know about roofing, charged with the task of determining who is correct and who is incorrect?” I found myself some disagreement and, I mean, it was tough to sort to the bottom of it.

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, let me ask you this. Do you feel you were more informed about roofing now that you did that?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m vastly informed about roofing, and I wish I weren’t.

Vikram Mansharamani
Far more than you want to be. Exactly. Well, so then the question becomes, “Do you think you could make a better decision having had those conversations or not?”

Pete Mockaitis
You mean going forward or looking backward?

Vikram Mansharamani
Yeah. So, ultimately, before you replaced your roof, you presumably had to make a choice, and you, I think, made an informed choice. It might’ve had some costs with developing the options, and seeking the disagreement, and getting a lay of the land, but that mere process, I think, informed you on an area that you would’ve otherwise made a decision blindly in.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it did inform me, and I suppose what I’m really getting at is once I’ve gotten some disagreements, how do I make a call?

Vikram Mansharamani
Sure. Sure. Well, that’s ultimately where you need to think for yourself, right? What are the variables that matter to you? Do you want a 40-year life roof or do you care if it’s a 20-year life roof? Do you want to have the guarantee in case there’s a leak and a hurricane comes through, or do you not worry about the guarantee because you think you may sell the house the next year? So, I think there’s some tradeoffs that one needs to think about themselves.

But part of the reason I encourage the disagreement is there’s a quote, a very famous quote, that Alfred Sloan used it says, “If we’re all in agreement on this decision, then I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.” Disagreement helps to understand. So, that’s part of the reason I focus on generating a little bit of disagreement.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s certainly true. That helps generate understanding and, partially, just because it’s psychologically, internally, there’s this tension. It’s like, “Well, what’s right? Aargh.” Because I’m sort of frustrated, I really want to hunker down and get deep into the wisdom because there’s this tension I want resolved and what’s correct.

So, what are some of your pro tips in terms of, I guess, one, you’re getting clear on what you want in your own criteria in rubrics there? But, I guess, part of what I figured out was I had to sort of make some rules of thumb for, “Who am I going to believe and who am I not, and why?” And part of it was I am more inclined to believe people who tell me something that works against their self-interest, where like, “Hey, I can’t do anything for you right now because you got to take care of that masonry first.” It’s like, “So, you’re just going to walk away from the money I want to give you.” I’m inclined to think that that’s a true thing he said about the masonry because it goes against his self-interest.

Or if someone gives me a why, a reason, because underneath what they’re saying, then I’d buy it more than the guy who did not. Like, “You’re going to have to tear off this roof because you can tell from this thickness right here that there’s already three layers, which is already more than the building code allows for. And if you observe this, you’ll see some sagging in the rafters,” versus the guy who’s like, “Nah, we can just put another layer on it.” It’s like, “You didn’t tell me why we could put another layer on it. Like, you didn’t say, ‘Hey, I can tell from this thickness that we have.’” He just said, “Nah.”

So, if you give me a reason versus not a reason, I want to go with the person who gave me a reason. So, those are just a couple of the rubrics I ended up inventing on the spot to make sense of my roof. But what else would you point us to in terms of sorting things out?

Vikram Mansharamani
Yeah, I mean, look, ultimately, we need to think about just satisficing, if you will. Pete, we’ve so often, because of these overwhelming sets of options and the overwhelming data deluge that we’re suffering, we think there’s an ideal so we never settle on “good enough.” I mean, I can imagine, and I don’t know you that well, but you might’ve been a person who got so analytical you could imagine a spreadsheet on which roofing contractor to hire.

Pete Mockaitis
There’s absolutely multiples.

Vikram Mansharamani
Right? At some point, we just need to decide. You can overanalyze these things. And so, when I tell people to focus on decision-making, I say, “Look, you can satisfice, that’s from Herb Simon, a Nobel prize winner, who suggested that actually maximization logic or optimization logic sometimes can mislead us, just the pursuit of it even, into expending more costs on trying to optimize than we get value from the incremental optimization.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, agreed. Time, I mean.

Vikram Mansharamani
So, I’ll give you an example from the book, which is a fun personal example, and it has to do with selecting a movie to watch. Every now and then, when the kids, my kids are asleep, my wife and I will jump on the couch and try to get a movie and just watch a movie in the comfort of our home, more so these days since we don’t go out during this lockdown. But, inevitably, what happens is one of us gets to the couch first and sees a preview or two, and then the second one arrives, and I got to be on the same informational footing, “I got to see the same previews you watched. There’s no way I’m making a choice without you…you have an informational edge here. I need to get involved here.”

And so, we’ll watch a couple. Both of us are in different moods, possibly realizing that, “My goodness, Xfinity has 10,000 movies available, we got the Apple TV, which has another 50,000, we got Netflix which can give it to us all of those 100,000 movies in seven different languages, and we got to be able to find the perfect movie.”

And so, an example I use in the book is my wife, eventually, is like, “Fine. It sounds like you really want to watch it. Let’s just watch that movie.” Except it’s taken us an hour to choose the movie. I fall asleep halfway through the movie, go to sleep, and she turns around and says, “I chose this movie because you wanted to watch this movie.” She’s upset. I fell asleep. I go to sleep. She then wakes up next morning. She watched half of the movie she didn’t want to watch, and half of the movie she did want to watch, and is frustrated by the whole evening.

That’s what happens with too much choice and not satisficing, and we’re all subject to it. Sometimes it’s fine to just make a choice. There’ll be more choices in the future. No reason to stress out about things. Some things shouldn’t be stressed about.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so funny that you and I are having this conversation. My company is called Optimality, LLC. That is my business name. I love things being optimal. And I think I’m the weird one compared to my friends and family in terms of others are more fine with satisficing. But I think that’s really a great point in terms of, again, thinking for yourself, in terms of, “What are we looking to do here? Do we need to optimize the crap out of this?” And some things you really do. It’s like, “This will make a tremendous impact if it’s 2% better, so we’re going to get there.”

And other things it doesn’t in terms of if you found the best possible movie ever that was, from thence forth, all of your favorite movies, one, that’s highly improbable, wildly occur, because how can you top Life is Beautiful. Wow! What a film. But the payoff isn’t that extraordinarily huge and the quest could take forever. So, I think that’s really great point right there. It’s just we got to decide, “What do we got to do here? Do I get a perfect optimization, a rough optimization, or just a quick good enough?”

Vikram Mansharamani
Yeah, and I think it has to do obviously with the stakes. When the stakes are low, our default is we tend not in our decision processes to factor in the stakes of the outcome. This is a trivial thing. We’re watching a movie. Why stress about optimizing? Just go with one. It’s good. We’ll have another choice next week. We’ll have lots. This is a repeated choice and the stakes are so low. So, yeah, I think incorporating how big a decision and how high the stakes are should come into that decision of optimize versus satisfice.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, it’s so funny, as we talk about it, it’s like, “Well, boy, if you really want to optimize the bejesus out of movies selection, you just got to go to IMDB or Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes, go top to bottom.”

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, Pete, you’re hinting at a great point where we outsource our thinking. How many of us go to the recommended, “People who watched this movie will also enjoy this movie”? And don’t we just naturally go there and explore those? When you’ve purchased a book online from your favorite large retailer, do you go down and say, “Well, people who bought this also bought this. You may also enjoy this”? Or do you get an email from someone? Are they channeling our focus in a way that prevents us from scanning? And so, we end up becoming exploiters, i.e. narrow and deep, rather than explorers, wide and broad. So, I think we’re outsourcing some of our thinking even unknowingly in times like those.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I think it’s interesting, if you think about just that notion of exploiting versus exploring, you would probably have a very different approach and mindset toward exploring if it wasn’t in the heat of battle, if you will, like, “We’re going to pick a movie to watch now” versus, “Why don’t I just get a list of candidates ready for the future moment in which we’re going to watch a movie.” You’ll probably be a little bit more open-ended in terms of, “Huh, what’s that about?”

Vikram Mansharamani
Well, it’s interesting. I mean, I think actually some of these large tech companies giving us media have thought about this decision problem, and that’s why I think, I don’t know for a fact, but I think that’s why we have the Wishlist, or the My List, or I think every streaming service has their own one where you put down what your future potential movies to watch are. So, even there I think they’re trying to overcome that problem. So, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, Vikram, tell me, before we shift gears, any other top do’s and don’ts for wise thinking, decision-making, we should lock in?

Vikram Mansharamani
Yeah. So, one of the things that I think is critical that very few people spend enough time thinking about is the future. Of course, all of us think about the future, singular, but I think we need to think about futures, plural. And thinking about multiple futures is a different way to think. It’s thinking probabilistically of how things can transpire.

And so, that’s a big-picture topic but I think it has to do with the context. As I said earlier, the context is critical to how you make decisions, the environment in which you’re making the decisions, the stakes of the decision you’re making, but also related to that is some version or vision of the future. And I rather you not have one vision of the future or one version of the future, but rather multiple futures that you’re envisioning or foreseeing.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I might sort of imagine what’s the future that I’m delighted with, what’s the future that I’m furious about, how do these come about.

Vikram Mansharamani
Yeah. I mean, look, one of the decision tactics I use in some of my advisory work is I use, from the academic literature, something called prospective hindsight. Now, what does that mean in plain English? In plain English that means it’s called a pre-mortem analysis. What does that mean in real plain English? Imagine failure in the future for a decision you made today, and then paint a story of why that decision failed.

So, you decided to go with one roofer. A hurricane came through and, you know what, you shouldn’t have done the multiple layers because it ripped off. That’s horrible. One possibility of failure in that decision is you went with a choice that optimized for the short term, not thinking about some of these bigger risks.

Alternatively, you failed because you went with the high-price guy who was going to do it perfectly, strip the roof, rebuild the masonry, do it all, and charge you an arm and leg. Well, now, how does that fail? Yeah, the failure there may be that, “Well, I spent too much money. I never really got the value of it,” or what have you, or there’s other versions that you can think about.

And so, you can think in terms of possible regrets for decisions made, trying to project yourself into the future and looking back to say, “Why did that decision go wrong?” And that oftentimes helps for some interesting thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote? You gave us one. Do you have another?

Vikram Mansharamani
I do. Peter Drucker, fabulous management theorist, and it’s related, again, in the domain of decisions, I think it’s the fabulous one, he says, “A decision without an alternative is a desperate gambler’s throw.” I figure I’d bring that in given the Vegas connection too. But, yes, the key is it’s not a choice. It’s not a decision if you only have one alternative you come up with. And this has to do with also that disagreement logic. So, that’s a fun quote.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Vikram Mansharamani
There’s a lot of them out there that I find fascinating. Obviously, Kahneman and Thaler. Kahneman and Tversky have done a lot, but Thaler has done a lot in behavioral decision-making, and I find almost all of their work fascinating. Some of their earlier work where they decided to actually go and try these sorts of studies on people.

One of my favorite ones, it’s referenced very slightly, but I think it says so much about us humans, was when they stepped in front of an audience and spun one of those wheels of fortune that resulted in a number, I think, between a zero and a hundred, and then they asked the audience, “What percentage of African nations were members of the United Nations?” And they got a number. They did these many times. Other groups spun the wheel of fortune, got a a random number. Everyone saw it was a random number. And then they asked the question, “What percentage of African nations are members of the United Nations?”

And the numbers that the groups came up with for percentage of African nations that were members of the United Nations were influenced by the random number. And the anchoring effect is so visceral at that point. Like, we know this number is random and yet that’s in our head. We can’t get it out of our head. And we approach the answer to the question closer to that than we otherwise should. I find that fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I saw one where judges, there’s a study with judges, who had an address on the stationery of the document that influenced how much of a monetary award they thought a plaintiff deserved, which was wild. These are judges.

Vikram Mansharamani
Yeah, you’d think it wouldn’t be that way but, unfortunately, it is. The other study that I’ll just highlight, is Philip Tetlock wrote a book called Expert Political Judgment. And in that book, he talks about experts’ forecasting and the long-range forecasts of many experts. And what he found was experts were less accurate in their area of expertise than non-experts were, vis-à-vis the predictions made over a long term and with lots of predictions. Then I think he had 80,000 predictions over lots of years and lots of forecasters, and sort of came back to the logic that sometimes it’s better to be broad rather than narrow.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Vikram Mansharamani
You know, one of the books that I really do love is The Four Agreements which is a bit of philosophy. It’s a book that’s not quite spiritual in the sense but it’s a sort of Toltec wisdom guide to self-freedom or something like that. I forget the subtitle of it. But, really, it’s a book that forces you to step back and put things in context personally, professionally, etc. I find it a really empowering book. It’s a book that I sometimes leave in my suitcase back when I was traveling more, and would happily pick up and read through and re-read. It’s a book that I think is quite powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Vikram Mansharamani
I actually think sometimes just disconnecting from the stuff I’m working on. And if that’s go out for a run or, and I talk about this also as a tool to inspire creativity, literally, just get lost in a movie in the middle of the day. So, sometimes if I’m writing and in a rut, I will go turn on a movie in the middle of the day, watch it, watch half of it. Of course, obviously, I don’t think this is unusual advice, but working out and sort of breaking the rhythm. But those are some of the tools I use to really break up the rhythm.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re really known for, it’s quoted back to you often?

Vikram Mansharamani
I think the phrase that you’ve already quoted that I do like to use and a lot of people associate with me is sometimes keep experts on tap not on top. That’s one of the things there.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And if folks want to learn or get in touch, where would you point them?

Vikram Mansharamani
I think my website is probably the best place, which is just my last name dot com, www.Mansharamani.com or my Twitter account which is @mansharamani.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Vikram Mansharamani
You know, I think it’s really, really important to try to take a step back and think about these multiple futures. And I know lots of people that are professional and focus on their careers are devout readers of non-fiction. But I want you to take some time to read fiction, to watch movies. I think the creativity that it inspires helps you to think about multiple futures. I teach this class at Harvard called Humanity and Its Challenges. It’s a systems-thinking class taught at the engineering school. And I use novels in this class.

Now, this throws engineering students off because their first inclination is, “Wait. What? That’s not real though, Vikram. That’s not real. That’s fake. That’s a fiction story.” And I was like, “Yes, read it. You’ll understand.” Or watching movies, they’re like, “But that’s not real. We’ll watch a documentary, not a movie.” But the point is some of these narratives of future scenarios can really help you navigate through uncertainty as it comes. It helps you get a lay of the land of what may be in front of you.

Five years ago, when I started teaching this class during the year 2016-2017 academic year, one of the cases, and we’ve used it since then, is the risk of a global pandemic. We had students watch the movie Contagion. We had the students watch other movies for other cases. And they dismissed it back then as Hollywood-esque drama, “This isn’t real. This is fake.”

Today, a handful of those students that gave me that feedback back then, are turning around and saying, “Wow, I’m glad you made us watch some of those things. It gave us a version of how the future could unfold that even though we didn’t fully appreciate at the time, we now do.” So, that’s a little tidbit, sort of think in terms of futures.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Vikram, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you all the best of luck in the ways you’re thinking for yourself.

Vikram Mansharamani
Great. Thanks very much, Pete.

518: Why to Never Go With Your Gut with Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky says: "When you have comfort... that's the time to most suspect your decision."
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky explains why we often make disastrous decisions—and how to make smarter ones.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The biggest decision-making mistake people make
  2. Three handy debiasing techniques
  3. Five questions to guide everyday decisions

About Gleb

Known as the Disaster Avoidance Expert, Dr. Gleb Tsipursky protects leaders from disasters by developing the most effective decision-making strategies via his consulting, coaching, and training firm Disaster Avoidance Experts. A cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist, Dr. Tsipursky writes for Inc., Time, and CNBC. A best-selling author, his new book, available on Amazon and in book stores everywhere, is Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

  • SideTrak. Work with two displays anywhere, anytime. Get 10% off at sidetrak.com/discount/awesome.
  • Young Investors Society. Help the next generation make wise financial decisions at yis.org.

Gleb Tsipursky Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Gleb, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Gleb Tsipursky
Thank you so much for inviting me, Pete. It’s a pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to learn all about you have an interesting brand for your business. It’s called Disaster Avoidance Experts. Tell us, first of all, what do you mean by disaster? What are we avoiding here?

Gleb Tsipursky
Any sort of things that seriously impact your bottom line in a negative way. Now, that might mean things like having a key employee leave, or having your website crash unexpectedly, or lacking a succession plan as I mentioned before. Let’s say, what happens if you have a disability and you can’t work for a while. What happens then? If your key client leaves and you’re really dependent on that client, that’s a problem. So, that’s one area of disaster, things that seriously impact your bottom line in a negative way.

Another area of disaster which people think about less, but just as impactful, is when you don’t take advantage of opportunities. So, let’s say your competitor goes bankrupt and you have all your money and resources devoted to your current business plan, that means you can’t take advantage of the competitor’s bankruptcy to get their employees, key employees on board with you. You can’t take advantage of your competitor’s bankruptcy to get their clients if all of your money and resources are devoted to something else.

Or other sort of opportunities to open up, let’s say the political situation. You know, you have some tariffs going on so people are changing their supply chains and you have an opportunity to be their new supplier but you’re already locked into contracts that keep you with others, with people you’re currently supplying to. That’s another problem. So, people don’t think about missing opportunities as disasters but they could be just as disastrous as threats. So that’s what I mean by disasters.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, I’m intrigued then, what in your client experience would you estimate is the biggest disaster that you’ve helped somebody avoid?

Gleb Tsipursky
Oh, the biggest disaster. Well, that’s a tough one because it really depends on how you think about jobs or careers. I do a lot of coaching for executives which includes coaching on their careers. So, I’ll give you an example. There was this executive who was thinking about making a job switch to create an enterprise, to be a startup leader, and we talked through the situation. He was excited. He wanted to make the jump. We talked through the situation kind of what was he excited about, what were his long-term plans.

And what we discovered was that he was excited about the idea of a startup, he was excited about kind of the financial potential of a startup, the impact on the world. But when I talked to him about, “Hey, do you know what it’s like to work in a startup? Have you ever worked in that environment?” it turned out that he wasn’t really prepared for the chaos and stress of that is involved in a startup, and especially the failures.

When you start up a business and entrepreneurial in you knows, you have a ton of failures, not the whole business itself, but when you’re trying to figure things out, how your system is going to work, how your processes are going to work, who are going to be your clients. He really wasn’t prepared for that. He was very much a perfectionist and he took failure poorly so he really wasn’t prepared for the chaotic entrepreneurial nature of a startup and especially a failure, so he decided not to go for it. He stayed in corporate America and spent the rest of his career there. He was quite happy and he would’ve been very stressed out if he went for a startup. So, that’s one example with a personal career move.

Now, another career, another situation would be with a company. There was a company that I was consulting with which was a midsized manufacturing company here in the Midwest about 2,000 people, and they were going to buy another company of about 1500 people, another mid-sized manufacturing, this time in the Southwest. And so, what happened was that they really were excited about buying it. They looked at the company. They looked at the company’s financials; the financials looked good. They looked at the company’s products; the products looked good. They would fulfill a gap that the buying company currently had.

But what they didn’t think about, they didn’t really think about the internal systems and processes of this company, the company culture. Now, I worked with a company that was my client for a while to get their internal culture more team-oriented and more flat, less hierarchical. But the company that they were going to buy was much more hierarchical and its culture was much more hierarchical top down, and its internal systems and processes were much more hierarchical top down, so, honestly, they would’ve really clashed in a really bad and harmful way.

And I’ve seen companies, I mean, if you think about mergers and acquisitions, you look at the research on this topic, about 80% of mergers and acquisitions fail. So, this would’ve definitely been one of those 80% that failed, and I’m very thankful that my client decided to avoid that merger and went and stepped away from it. So, those are two disasters that I helped leaders and businesses avoid.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, I’d love to hear then, in terms of humans and decision-making, what have been some of the most striking discoveries you’ve made about how we go about decision-making and often poorly?

Gleb Tsipursky
I think the most important thing that I have discovered, and I have been doing this, just to be clear, for over 20 years in consulting, coaching, training and decision-making, so I’ve been doing this for a while. I’ve also went into high academia. I researched this topic. I’m a cognitive scientist and behavioral economist, that’s where my research is, and research level doing peer-reviewed research.

What I found was that, really surprising and very bothersome, was that people very much tend to go with their gut, with their intuitions, what they feel is what they do. So, they equate the feeling of rightness and correctness and intuitiveness, “This is the right thing to do. I feel it in my gut.” They equate that with truth and the rightness and what’s best for their bottom line, what’s best for their long-term goals, and that’s terrible.

Our gut evolved for the savannah environment. It’s evolved for small tribes of 15 people to 150 people, and the saber-toothed tiger-response when we need to flee from a saber-toothed tiger. That’s what our gut is adapted for. We are the descendants of those who jumped at a hundred shadows and successfully avoided that one saber-toothed tiger. In our current environment, that’s really bad to jump at a hundred shadows. We get so much stress, so much problems, there are so many people who are anxious and depressed because of these excessive reactions from our gut. But people still trust their gut, they trust their feelings, they trust their intuitions, and they make really bad mistakes as a result.

The most fundamental thing I convey to my clients that has helped them so much is to distance themselves from this feeling of rightness, from this feeling of comfort. When you have comfort, when you’re comfortable about a decision, that’s the time to most suspect your decision because you’re often going to make the most wrong decision when you feel most comfortable with it. It’s counterintuitive but that’s the civilized thing to be, just like it’s counterintuitive to eat with our fork and knife. We had to learn how to eat with forks and knives. Now, it would be very weird if we don’t eat fish and steak with your fork and knife, but that’s something you had to learn to do. But we still make decisions as though we eat with our hands.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. So much there. I think that makes a lot of sense, is to know there’s a wide distinction between the feeling of rightness and truth. And often, when you’re the most comfortable, that is not an indicator that it’s right, and especially if in the sense when you’re trying to do something new and different and challenging, or that sort of stretches you in some way, it’ll naturally be uncomfortable. So, I guess I’m wondering then, so are you saying then that intuition has no place? Or how would you contextualize and position intuition in the scheme of decision-making?

Gleb Tsipursky
So, intuition is a complex concept, and we need to separate two things here. We have to separate gut reactions which have to do with our evolved tribal intuitions, and that’s kind of coming from our instinct, from our savage primitive environment. That’s when we were babies and we responded to things. That’s intuition, that’s inborn, that’s genetics, and that’s really, really harmful in the modern world.

In a modern business environment, you don’t want to use the genetic, inborn intuition, that tribal response where you think, where you look at a person, and if the person seems like that person is like you, you will like that person much more. That’s the halo effect where we tend to like other people who look like us, who think like us, who feel like us, who have our color, our skin color, and someone who have our politics, our value sets. That’s very dangerous. And, of course, we don’t like people who don’t have that. That’s called the horns effect.

Now, in the current business environment, it’s very bad to use this tribal sensibility to make decisions because then you’ll hire other people, let’s say you’re a business leader, you’ll hire other people who are like you, and then you’ll be making very bad decisions because you’ll be all thinking alike and you won’t question each other’s decisions. Same thing if you’re a solopreneur, you’ll be collaborating with other people who are like you and you will not be getting the huge benefit of collaborating with different people. So, that’s kind of one area where you want to very much be aware of these inborn intuitions.

Now, where intuitions are helpful. Here’s an area where they’re helpful. They’re helpful where you have learned overtime to make good, quick, effective decisions. For example, right now, pretty much any professional has learned how to look for their email and quickly separate the spam from the quality email. You don’t need to think about that for a long time, you just say, “Okay, this looks like spam.” Leaders, people who are in leadership positions, have learned how to organize judgment and decision-making, delegation effectively. How could you delegate effectively to other people? You can do that effectively now but that’s a learned habit.

Now, people who have been working effectively for a long time have learned good productivity and organization systems. They’re really productive. They know how to do that. But, again, they had to learn these things. So, now they feel intuitive just like eating with your fork and knife feels intuitive. But what they are is healthy learned mental habits. It’s kind of like driving a car. You have to learn how to drive a car. It took a lot of time. It took a lot of effort. I remember driving, learning how to drive a car myself. I failed my first driving test. I couldn’t pass it the first time. Now I can drive a car very easily and it feels like I’m driving on autopilot, which feels like I’m using my intuition, but what I’m actually using is healthy learned mental habits. So you want to differentiate those savage primitive instincts from those healthy learned civilized mental habits, that natural state to the civilized state.

And so, the intuition is useful when you’ve been doing the same thing in a specific domain for a long time and you’ve been correct there. What you don’t want to do is apply to new domains. So, for example, many business owners trust their ability to hire people based on interviews. They have someone come in, they talk to this person, they hire this person or not. Extensive research has shown that that’s a terrible decision, that’s really bad strategy for hiring people because they don’t have enough experience in hiring people. They don’t really know how to do it effectively and some people might be offended by it when I say that, but, hey, I’m just telling you what the research shows.

Another area is when you sell your business. When people are selling their business, they make many, many, many mistakes because they haven’t done this before, and they haven’t done this often. Same thing in mergers and acquisitions, they haven’t done this often so they don’t know what to watch out for. So, any new area, anything you haven’t done before, anything important and significant, anything emotionally salient, anything that really pulls at your emotions, you want to be especially aware of and not use your intuitions.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess I’m curious in particular about intuition when it comes to, let’s say, the matter of trusting another person. You know, it seems like they have a proposal for you, maybe it’s a business-related thing in terms, hey, there’s this new vendor. They can provide this thing at this price and they seem to have all the right answers and check the right boxes based on your criteria but there’s just something inside you that says, “You know what, I kind just don’t trust this guy. I think he’s going to not deliver the goods.” Is that a particular type of intuition and what’s your take on that one?

Gleb Tsipursky
Yeah, that’s bad. If you don’t know this person for a long time, it’s likely that it’s your tribal intuitions. If this guy is a slick salesman, and he’s able to sell you it’s because it’s a famous salesperson technique to make it look like and appear like he is similar to you. They try to mimic you, they try to use your wording, so this person is most likely just not a very good salesperson and doesn’t fit your idea of what it looks like your tribal member should be. So, you don’t want to trust your instincts around new people.

This is going to offend a lot of people. It already has. The research shows it offended a lot of people, and it’s okay. I’m just telling you what the research says. You shouldn’t trust your instincts around new people. You need to look at that person and say, “Hey, is this person any way significantly different from me, different in race, ability, gender, sociality, politics, the way this person speaks, this person’s background?”

I’ll give you an interesting example. So, I was doing a presentation for over a hundred HR professionals at a diversity inclusion conference here in Columbus, Ohio. And Columbus, Ohio is, of course, famous as the home of the Ohio State Buckeyes, our football team, “Go, Bucks!” and it’s very, very popular around here. So, our big rival is the University of Michigan up north, the Wolverines, not very popular around here.

Pete Mockaitis
“Yeah, those Michigan people.” I went to the University of Illinois. It’s fun to hate people who went to Michigan. No offense, Michigan listeners.

Gleb Tsipursky
There you go. Well, let’s hate Michigan, I agree.

Pete Mockaitis
Not everybody but some of them are really obnoxious so you got to stick it to them. Please continue.

Gleb Tsipursky
I know, I’m joking. But, anyway, what I asked these HR professionals who are leaders in diversity inclusion here in Columbus, Ohio was, “Hey, would you hire somebody who’s a University of Michigan fan?” So, out of those hundred people only three people indicated that they would hire a University of Michigan fan, and these are experts in diversity inclusion. They would not hire a Michigan fan. Just because that person is a Michigan fan that would exclude that person from hiring, so that shows you the importance of tribalism in something so, you know, I mean, everyone likes to hate a Michigan fan but, honestly, it’s kind of a trivial thing which is extremely rude for. It’s just about which team. It doesn’t really matter for your work performance.

Pete Mockaitis
Maybe in that context, I wonder if they were sort of afraid to raise their hand because people would look at them and go, “Ugh!”

Gleb Tsipursky
No, no, I mean, that’s indicative, that’s why they wouldn’t hire this person, right, because they know that other people would be like, “Why the heck did you hire this University of Michigan fan at their job?”

Pete Mockaitis
I would hire them and tell them not to let people know that they’re a Michigan fan.

Gleb Tsipursky
It’s not a viable scenario. It’s not a scenario we should have, but that’s the way our brains work. So, just because someone is from the University of Michigan. So we should not trust our intuitions about new people. That’s the critical important thing.

What you want to do if this is a new person, you want to bring in someone quite different from yourself if you are kind of serious about using this person as a new vendor, and use this external trusted advisor to evaluate this person and see what they say.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah, that makes sense in terms of, you know, and then the intuition still is serving a function. It has given you some bit of information which may be confirmed or denied, and that probes you to go a little further in your investigation versus if they weren’t there, you might be like, “All right, we’re good to go. No need.”

Gleb Tsipursky
And that’s something to be afraid of also because if this person is a slick salesperson and sells you a bill of goods, if you feel very comfortable with this person, you want to step back and see if this person is using typical salesman techniques like copying you, mimicking you, echoing you. These are techniques that you can learn about and protect yourself from. But if you don’t know, if you just go with what’s comfortable for you, and you don’t protect yourself from this comfort feeling techniques, then you will be sold the bill of goods.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Okay. So, that’s handy. Well, then let’s talk now about cognitive bias. First, could you define that for listeners who are not familiar with the term? And then list out just a couple of what you’ve observed to be the most pervasive and disastrous cognitive biases in the workplace.

Gleb Tsipursky
So, cognitive biases are mistakes that we make because of how our brain is wired. A lot of it is due to our heritage. Like I mentioned before, tribalism, the flight or fight response. Other aspects are due to just our information processing is imperfect, just the way we process information, our brain is far from perfect, and so that is why we have systematic errors that cause us to deviate away from the perfect decision-making.

So, the perfect decisions are decisions that most benefit in the workplace, so just in the workplace, most benefit your bottom line. In other life spheres, it’s going to be decisions that most benefit your life goals or your professional goals, or whatever goals you have. So, that’s the perfect decisions, the ones that can give you the most benefit. Cognitive biases are systematic errors that cause us to deviate away from these perfect decisions. I gave you an example before already of the halo effect and the horns effect. Another cognitive bias that a lot of people get struck by very problematically is called the planning fallacy.

The planning fallacy is an interesting one because it’s where we tend to assume that everything will go according to plan. We invest a lot of resources. I mentioned before what are disasters. Disasters are when we don’t anticipate the risks and when we don’t anticipate opportunities. So, we invest all resources into our plan, and when problems happen or opportunities happen, we don’t have enough resources to take care of them, and we don’t anticipate, we don’t look for these opportunities or threats in advance, and we are unable to address them because of that. So, that’s the planning fallacy.

And you’ll often hear the phrase “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Again, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” This is a common phrase. It’s very common, just like “Go with your gut” is a common phrase. They’re both wrong. They’re both problems. You don’t want to go with your gut and you don’t want to think that failing to plan is planning to fail, because our plans, we tend to make perfect plans. So, what you want to think about is never go with your gut and, for the other one, you want to think “Failing to plan for problems is planning to fail.”

Again, failing to plan for problems is planning to fail. What you want to do is plan for what kind of problems might come up and address these problems in advance. And the same thing for opportunities. What kind of opportunities might come up and address these opportunities in advance, as well as reserve some resources for unexpected threats and unexpected opportunities, so that’s the planning fallacy, that’s one.

Another one that a lot of business leaders run into is overconfidence bias. Overconfidence bias is our tendency to be way too confident about our decisions. And, honestly, the higher up a leader is, the more experienced somebody is, the more they tend to be confident and the more biased they tend to be, the more excessively confident they tend to be. Not everyone, but this is the general tendency.

So, for example, we found research that if somebody says, “I’m 100% confident about this. Yes, I’ll bet the company on this. I’ll bet my career on this.” They’re only going to be right about 80% of the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, interesting. Those who say, “I’m 100% sure about this,” are right 80% of the time.

Gleb Tsipursky
That’s correct and that’s horrible because they lose the company and they lose their careers, so 20% of the time, so this is very dangerous for people who say they’re 100% confident definitely in this thing, just because of the way our brain works. So, we have to be very careful to develop a sense of humility, and this is really important. Humility is such an underappreciated business emotion. We need to be able to have this sense of humility, have this sense of, “Oh, hey, I might be wrong, and it’s okay. Let me step back and let me evaluate this situation. Let me be less confident than I intuitively am. Let me ask others for strategies.”

My book Never Go With Your Gut goes for a whole bunch of strategies that you can use to evaluate the situation, address threats, seize opportunities. So, you want to be more humble, and that is one of the critical emotions that you want to develop in order to get yourself to use these strategies effectively.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’ve got a number, a dozen, of de-biasing techniques. Could you share what’s perhaps the most one or two powerful or efficient means of really helping remove some bias and improving the decision-making of every professional?

Gleb Tsipursky
Well, I’ll share a very quick one, and then some more complex ones. The quickest one is counting to ten. Your mom probably told you, “Count to ten before you do something emotional, especially when you’re angry.” And that actually works. The recent research has shown that counting to ten, delaying your decision-making works quite effectively for day-to-day decisions. That’s really one good useful strategy that you can effectively deploy. Counting to ten, taking the time to think about it at least for 10 seconds before day-to-day decisions. So, that’s one.

Another one that many people don’t use but it’s incredibly helpful is making predictions about the future. Again, making predictions about the future. Let’s say you are in a meeting of the C suite, and people are saying, “Hey, this product will go great,” or, “This product will not be good at all that you’re about to launch.” Have everyone make a prediction, have everyone make, “Hey, here’s how I think it will do in the next 6 months,” and make sure that you check back on what happened 6 months ago, that way you’ll calibrate.

How well do you think your business, if you’re a solopreneur, is going to do? Or, if you’re the business leader, how well do you think it’s going to do? How well the specific aspects of your business, how well as they going to do? How well is the client, a specific client, going to be with you? How much will they order? Thinking about these things. Make predictions about the future and then check yourself, and you will slowly improve your ability to make good decisions because you’ll calibrate yourself over time. So, that’s another one that I want to mention.

And another one that I think is incredibly important is to get an outside view, or have an external perspective. Step back from your current context. So, people tend to be greatly overconfident, business leaders especially tend to be very optimistic. I’m an optimist myself. I tend to be too optimistic. I think the grass is greener on the other side of the hill, things are less risky than they seem. However, what’s really helpful for that optimism and overconfidence is stepping back and say, “Hey, if somebody else was launching a product just like that, how do you think it would work? What is the typical situation for mergers and acquisitions?”

So, a typical situation for mergers and acquisitions is that 80% fail. So, if you’re going through a merger and acquisition, you shouldn’t think that you are better than all the other business leaders who’ve gone into mergers and acquisitions. You should assume that the most likely situation, four out of five times you’ll fail, so you have to really work hard to make sure that your specific merger or acquisition is going to be so extremely good that it overcomes this very, very high typical rate of very smart people. I mean, business leaders who do mergers and acquisitions are pretty smart people, and you have to make sure that it will not fail and it overcomes a pretty high barrier. So, those are three things that I would share with people.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so, you also spent a period of time discussing our human tendency to try to minimize loss. And so, what’s going on there and what should we do about that?

Gleb Tsipursky
Yes, so we as human beings tend to minimize loss, and that is a big problem because we don’t look sufficiently at gains, and this is a tendency called loss aversion. So, for example, when somebody, let’s say, has invested their money, and loss aversion, the tendency to minimize loss is there are a couple of cognitive biases around that.

So, for example, when somebody has invested money into some project, let’s say, I was working with a client who invested 2.5 million into a manufacturing project. And the client was really reluctant to look at the situation and see the external environment changed. It actually changed because of the recent tariffs, and there was nothing nearly as much demand for the product anymore because of the changing supply chains. And I was helping this client, I was pointing out the situation, and he was really reluctant to let go of his vision of the future. So, he didn’t want to lose this. He didn’t want to lose his vision of the future because he invested a lot of emotions and he felt a lot of positive emotions over it, and he didn’t want to perceive himself as someone who made a mistake, as someone who’s a loser. So, that’s one of the worst emotions for business leaders.

When I do trainings for business leaders, and I talk these examples, “What are you most afraid of?” Failure is probably the biggest, biggest most common thing I hear about. People don’t want to be perceived failing, they don’t want to be perceived as losers, so they are trying to do a lot of things to avoid these losses, and they throw a lot of good money after that. So, he kept going quite a bit longer with that project than he should’ve. Eventually, he got out of it, fortunately. But that was a pretty bad investment. At the time he made it, it wasn’t really terrible but he put quite a bit more money into it than he should have. And that’s a tendency that’s called sunken cost where we tend to sink too much money, too much resources after previous resources we have made because we don’t want to feel like losers, and we don’t want to lose these initial resources.

What’s much more effective, the strategy to address this loss aversion, this sunken cost is to say, “Hey, okay, these resources, they’re lost. Let them go. Just from the situation where you are right now, what is the best decision to make for your long-term goals, whatever your long-term goals are in this professional activity, let’s say, for your bottom line?” The same thing applies to personal life, in relationships. So many people sink a lot of their time, resources, into relationships that really aren’t going to work out that they should’ve cut off a long time ago. So, that’s a common thing that happens in relationships unfortunately.

So, you want to be thinking about, “Hey, ignoring the previous investments, what’s the situation now?” Because of your previous investments, you might feel bad about them, but it doesn’t really matter from that perspective. You want to think about your current position. And from your current position, what kind of steps do you want to take to maximize your long-term future returns in all life areas? And so, that’s a strategy that you can use to address loss aversion.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Gleb, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Gleb Tsipursky
One of the things I want to mention, to make sure is that there are techniques that people can use to very effectively and quickly address their decision-making problems that we all tend to have, and these are five questions that you can use to avoid decision disasters. So, here are the five questions that you should use for everyday decision-making, and you can even use them for major decision-making when you don’t have time to do a more thorough technique.

First, “What important information did I not yet fully consider?” You want to especially look for information that goes against your comfort levels, that goes against your intuitions because this will tend to hide the kind of problematic aspects of your decisions. So, you look at information that goes against your intuitions especially.

Second, “What dangerous judgment errors, cognitive biases have I not yet addressed?” In my book, Never Go With Your Gut goes over the 30 most dangerous ones. Third, and I mentioned this before the program, “What does a trusted and objective advisor suggest that I do?” So, imagine a little bit little Pete on your shoulder, and think about, “What would Pete suggest that you do?” Or somebody else that you trust who’s an objective advisor to you. Now, those are the first three questions that have to do with making a decision.

We’re transitioning into the last two questions about preventing failure and optimizing success in implementing the decision. First, “How have I addressed all the ways this decision can fail?” Again, “How have I addressed all the ways this decision can fail?” Think about all the potential problems, realistic problems you can anticipate, and address them in advance. And the same thing for opportunities.

Finally, “What new information would cause me to revisit this decision?” Again, “What new information would cause me to revisit this decision?” You really should make this information identified as in advance of implementing the decision because in the heat of the decision-making implementation, you will tend to run into situations where you want to, “Oh, maybe I should change my mind. Maybe I should revisit the decision.” It’s much more effective if you already decided what would cause you to revisit the decision or rethink things in advance.

Pete Mockaitis
What I also love about that question, “What new information would cause me to revisit this decision?” is it can reveal your sort of, I guess, one-track mind, obsessed, like, “If the answer is nothing. This is what we must do.” It’s like, “Oh, that’s probably a red flag that there should be something that could possibly cause you to revisit it. And if nothing comes to mind, we’re probably not done thinking about it yet.”

Gleb Tsipursky
Yup, you’re not thinking about it straight is the problem, that pretty much any decision can be and should be revisited if you have specific information. And if you can’t falsify this decision, that you can’t falsify this choice, if you can’t say, “Hey, this would make me change my mind,” then you’re probably way too overcommitted to this decision

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Gleb Tsipursky
Sure. I really like Ben Franklin’s quote that “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That’s a very insightful quote, and it’s something that I live by, and I encourage everyone that I meet to live by because we tend to spend way too much time dealing with disasters as opposed to preventing them in advance.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite study, or experiment, or a piece of research?

Gleb Tsipursky
I really like a study where, and this was a good study, I don’t know from which university it was done, let’s say it was Ohio State, where a bunch of students were given a math test as an experiment. They were paid for the math test, and they were paid for how many questions they would get right on the math test, and they were given the opportunity to score themselves. So, everyone in the Ohio State was given the math test, and then there was one student who was obviously cheating, very obviously, very clearly cheating.

And this student, in one set of experiments, was wearing an Ohio State uniform, so he’s kind of part of the tribe. And at that set of experiments, many, many other students cheated, a whole bunch of other students cheated. Now, in another set of experiments, that student who was wearing a University of Michigan uniform…

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, those cheaters from Michigan. That sounds about right.

Gleb Tsipursky
Yeah, exactly. And pretty much nobody else was cheating at that experiment.

Pete Mockaitis
So, no one else ended up cheating. They were not influenced by the outsider.

Gleb Tsipursky
Yeah, nobody else. Influenced by tribalism. The first experiment where this person wore an Ohio State uniform, it’s like, “Oh, my tribe is cheating, therefore, this is a good thing. Therefore, this is appropriate.” The second set of experiment is the enemy is cheating, “No, we will not cheat. We will do the true, honest, ethical thing.” So, it shows us how much we’re influenced by tribalism. And so much of this is very, very applicable to culture within organizations.

So, whenever you see people within an organization cheating, it’s because this culture induces cheating. Whereas, if you see people in an organization being honest, it’s all about the culture causing honesty. We’re very much influenced by our culture and the people around us much more than we tend to believe we are.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Gleb Tsipursky
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. This is the seminal book on cognitive biases. I really like it. It’s part of that older generation of scholars. Daniel Kahneman is part of the first generation of scholars on cognitive biases. I really like his work and I think it’s incredibly important as a foundational base for all future work that was done on this topic.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you recommend a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Gleb Tsipursky
Well, what I have found is that I really like flexible tools, and the flexibility of Trello as an organizational tool. I’m not being paid by Trello, I’m not an affiliate of Trello in any way. But Trello is a system of essentially Kanban board where it uses a combination of index cards, cards that you move around from different columns. So, I use it all the time for my organization and for various projects that I do because it’s very flexible and that’s kind of pretty intuitive for me to use, kind of index cards. So, that’s my favorite tool.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit, something that you do that helps you be awesome at your job?

Gleb Tsipursky
My favorite habit that’s really important is, as part of my routine, I always do journaling in the morning about what I learned from the last day and what I’m grateful for and a couple of other things. But that’s the essence of the journaling, kind of what I’ve learned and what I’m grateful for. So, the first one, what I’ve learned, helps me keep a constant habit of self-improvement throughout my life.

The gratitude, what I’m grateful for, helps improve my mood. And we tend to greatly underestimate the importance of mood. So, the research on this topic shows that we are about 80% to 90% driven by our emotions. Again, 80% to 90% driven by our emotions to do what we do, to make the decisions that we make. So, I make sure to take care of my emotions, and that’s one of the ways I take care of my emotions, by having a gratitude diary.

Pete Mockaitis
And, tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, they quote it back to you often?

Gleb Tsipursky
Well, I’ll tell you, something I mentioned in the presentation, in the podcast earlier, is that you want to avoid, avoid, avoid equating the feeling of comfort with trueness. So, avoid. Comfort is not true. So, whatever you feel is comfortable and intuitive is often going to be the worst thing for you to do, so you want to very much question that feeling of comfort and intuitiveness even if it feels right, even though it feels right. That’s exactly that time when you need to most question it in order to make the best decisions going forward.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Gleb Tsipursky
Well, they can check out my book Never Go With Your Gut. They can check out my website DisasterAvoidanceExperts.com for blog, videos, podcasts, and so on. And they can check me out on LinkedIn, connect with me there please. That’s Dr. Gleb Tsipursky on LinkedIn. And if you have any questions about anything you heard today, I welcome you to contact me by email at gleb@disasteravoidanceexperts.com.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Gleb Tsipursky
I want you to remember to be aware of going with your gut. Going with your gut is a very common piece of advice. It’s probably one of the most common pieces of advice, and I want to challenge you to question this piece of advice. It’s very dangerous to just go with your gut. It causes you to run to serious career disasters, serious business disasters, and you don’t want that to happen to you like it happens to so many people.

Don’t trust your gut. That’s one thing. And the other part of this that I’ve also talked about is “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Don’t trust that. Our plans tend to not survive contact with the enemy and you want to make sure to think that failing to plan for problems is planning to fail. So, those are the challenges that I want to give folks.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Gleb, it’s been lots of fun. I wish you much luck and fun in all your upcoming decisions.

Gleb Tsipursky
Thank you so much, Pete. And I wish you the same and thank you so much for helping people be awesome at their jobs.

514: How to Make More Winning Decisions with Alec Torelli

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Alec Torelli says: "I care only about what I can control."Professional poker player Alec Torelli shares his tips for making wise decisions during high-stakes situations.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to keep emotions from overtaking logic
  2. When to go with your gut
  3. How to better read people and situations

About Alec

Alec Torelli is a professional high stakes poker player turned digital entrepreneur and keynote speaker, who shares how the lessons he learned from poker can be applied to life and business.

Alec is the founder of Conscious Poker, a popular poker training platform, and after spending the last 14 years making decisions for hundreds of thousands of dollars in a single hand, he now gives talks in which he dissects the anatomy of decision making to help others hone the way they make choices.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

Alec Torelli Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Alec, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Alec Torelli
Pete, I love what you’re doing and flattered to be here. Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Well, I’m excited to really dig into some of your wisdom associated with decision-making and keeping your cool and all that good stuff. But, for starters, maybe you could regale us with an exciting tale from the land of professional poker.

Alec Torelli
A specific story or…?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, just like the most riveting, like, “Whoa! That’s awesome.” No pressure, Alec.

Alec Torelli
That’s fine. So, I’ve been playing for 15 years. It’s interesting to pick out one thing that comes to mind. I guess, for me, personally, I think the coolest story, the first one that comes to mind, so I was 22 years old at the time. This is about a decade ago. And it was a Wednesday night, I was at my apartment in Las Vegas, and it was 7:00, 8:00 p.m., kind of like nothing going on. And I was like, “You know what, I’m going to just head over to Bellagio and see what’s going on and play whatever poker game is running.” Clearly, like a Wednesday night, not expecting anything to happen.

Go down with some money. Show up and there’s a game running with a $2,000 buy-in, so it’s 10, 20 or the blinds, or the forced antes. It’s a pretty normal-sized poker game, nothing out of the ordinary. So, I show up and I have, I don’t know, I bring $10,000 or $20,000 to the table, which is allowing myself a few buy-ins to the game, not knowing what to expect.

Playing for a couple of hours and the foreman comes over to me and says, “Hey, Alec, I know you sometimes play higher-stakes games, and there are three businessmen that showed up with Doyle Brunson…” who’s like the godfather of poker, “…and they’re looking for more people to play to start a poker game. They don’t want to just start with four people. Do you, or does anybody in this game, want to play?”

So, I’m like, “Sure, Matt, I would love to play,” but, of course, I completely know it’s a Wednesday night, I was completely unprepared. I’m sitting here with a small amount. They’re playing some very high-stakes poker game, and I don’t have money on me and I’m not even sure I can afford to play this game. I have no idea. They might be playing for $100,000 to buy into the game.

So, I walked over to Bobby’s room, and he says, “Well, just go talk to Doyle, and he’s looking to play.” So, I walk in and, of course, Doyle is my idol. I read his books growing up, I watched him on TV.

So, I walked into Bobby’s room and I’m like, “You know, Matt said that there was a game. I’d love to play. I’m not sure that I have the money or what size game you are playing.” And Doyle is like, “Well, the buy-in is 50,000.” I’m like, “Look, I only brought 20 with me and I was up a couple thousand. I have maybe half of that.” And Doyle looked at me, he has no idea who I am, he’s like, “You look like you know what you’re doing. How about I give you 25,000 and take half your action, and we start a poker game?” And I’m like, “Is this real? Like, am I in a movie?” So, I’m like, “Okay, sure.”

So, I sit down, by this time it’s like 8:00 or 9:00 or 10:00 at night. I don’t remember exactly, and now the VIPs, the businessmen, they’re like ordering these crazy bottles of wine, they’re ordering all these food and oysters. So, we’re drinking wine, I’m sitting here talking to my childhood hero, we’re telling stories. I ended up winning, it’s crazy, you think I would remember, but I ended up winning a large amount in the game, I don’t remember how much, and Doyle kind of hit it off at that time. Clearly shared a unique experience.

And when he went to go start his poker site, Doyles Room, because of that interaction, I became the first sponsored pro of the site. And so, that was something that I’ll always remember, where preparation meets opportunity. I had a good session in the game, I won, I made a good impression, but I was just involved in a crazy serendipitous moment, and that was one of the highlights of my poker career.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so intrigued. So, Doyle said, “You seem like you know what you’re doing.” And I wonder, did he recognize you? Did he have prior information? I’m just sort of wondering what kind of triggers that reaction or response?

Alec Torelli
Well, if you’re in your early 20s and you’re in the Bellagio at 9:00 p.m. on a Wednesday with 20 grand, you probably know what you’re doing. Like, you’re probably a professional poker player. Like, there’s not many things that you could be doing. And so, it was he didn’t know who I was, for sure, but you could kind of identify if someone is good or not based on how they look and come across. Like, you could pick out, if you just look at a table and you’ve never seen anyone, you could typically tell if someone is very confident, or if they’re a professional, or if they’re likely to be an amateur, or if they’re a very experienced player.

And I think he just kind of gathered that I was probably a professional poker player. There was a lot of young guns playing professional poker at the time, and so he figured I’m probably going to be a big favorite in the game given that the other three people were not professionals, let’s just say, the least, and so it was going to be a profitable investment. And, also, frankly, I think the game wasn’t going to start unless there was more than the four of them sitting there, and so part of it is just being aware of what’s going to kickstart the action. And you can’t make money if there’s no game, so he’s like, “Look, I got to do what I got to do.”

Doyle has been around the block a few times, so it was just being at the right place at the right time. And then I think having the image of, “Look, I clearly know what I’m doing.” Actually, it’s one of the few times that it helps you. I think poker players, most people don’t want to play with professionals because they don’t want to be in a game where they’re going to lose. But, in this case, Doyle actually valued that I was a professional and he figured, “Hey, look, if this professional is going to sit in my game and be a favorite to win and make money, I might as well get a piece of the action.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well, that adds up. Makes sense. So, I love that the story is so meta there because we’re talking about opportunities and decision-making, and then even another poker player’s decision-making that made a lot of sense once you unpack it a bit. So, we’ve interviewed Annie Duke previously, another professional poker player.

Alec Torelli
Yes, that’s how I found you there. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And that was one of my faves, so we’re going to – I’m sure there’s a poker term – double up. Thank you.

Alec Torelli
Double down, yeah. Double down, that’s more of a blackjack term. But she’s awesome. I like Annie a lot and she has a great book for those that are out there thinking in bets. Highly recommend it on my shortlist. So, yeah, she’s great.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so then let’s dig into it now. In your view, what do you think are some of the key principles of smart poker playing that are absolutely applicable to professionals looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Alec Torelli
Oh, man, there’s so many. One of them is decision-making, in general, and just being able to objectively make decisions without emotion, and using a combination of logic and intuition to make good decisions and not make emotional ones. I think another one is separating the facts from the noise and focus on the merit of making good decisions and not being preoccupied by the outcome.

And not basing the quality of your decision based on the outcome but based on the expectation that the decision will produce that outcome in the long term, and understanding that in the short term, or in an N1 sample, meaning a sample size of one, there is variance, meaning there is volatility there. There’s non-zero probability that you’re going to have a different outcome because there’s luck. So, it’s being able to step back from the results of the decision you make and evaluate the process of the decision. And that’s really what you’re after in poker.

And then I think another one is what poker players call bankroll management, which is shorthand for being able to manage your money in a way that allows you to properly evaluate your risks so that you can reach the long term and that luck is not the deciding factor in your success. And casinos do this as well where they have betting limits per hand so that they manage their risks so that no one hand of Blackjack, Roulette, Craps, whatever, can sort of break the house. And they know that in the long run, the odds are in their favor but they’re mitigating their risks along the way so that no one hand is significant and they can reach that long term.

Poker players practice the same thing using bankroll management to ensure that no one hand, or one session, or one tournament is significant in the grand scheme of things. So, these are, I think, three of the core principles that poker has taught me. And maybe self-awareness is another one, to look at things objectively, and try and screen for your cognitive biases as well. So, those are some of the big ones.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, yeah, there’s a lot that we can dig into.

Alec Torelli
Yeah, a lot to unpack there, I know.

Pete Mockaitis
So, let’s talk about emotions. Now, you know, we have them, they’re there. So, I would love it if you could sort of, first, lay out, in terms of, “Hey, when you’re experiencing these kinds of emotions, you tend to make these sorts of mistakes in logic.” For example, I believe I’ve heard and experienced in my life that if you’re feeling stressed, rushed, too busy, we tend to prioritize the short-term immediate relief, whether that’s undisciplined eating pizza or just like hurry, “Just get it done. I don’t care what it costs. You know, fine,” and we overspend on getting some help because we’re really desperate and we need it. So, I think that’s one connection between emotions and suboptimal decisions that tends to pop up. What are some others and what do we do about that?

Alec Torelli
Yeah, I think if you look at the types of decisions you can make fundamentally, I typically break them down into three categories. So, logic or analytical, and this is well-thought out, pros and cons, analytical-type of decision-making. Then there’s intuitive decisions, which is trusting your read, or feeling, or gut instinct. And this sometimes gets confused with the third type of decisions, which are emotional, and those are the worst decisions we make, right? Impulsive, frivolous, frantic types of decisions.

So, I think, in poker, the challenge is to eliminate the emotional decisions and work with the other two. At the poker table, this is called tilt, meaning you make decisions when you’re in a state of mind that is suboptimal and you’re frustrated by the previous results, or lack thereof, and you’re trying to compensate for that or make overly-aggressive plays to win money in a short period of time. And this causes people to play poor hands, make bad decisions, bluff at the wrong times, chase when the odds are not in their favor, and, ultimately, in the long run, lose lots and lots of money. This is the ruin of many players.

So, otherwise, good players sometimes can’t win in the long term because they can’t manage their emotions. So, your talent is only one part of it. It’s being able to execute consistently that is another part. And so, poker really is extremely punishing if you’re not, I would say, great or excellent at this because it’s unforgiving in the sense that, unlike the real world, you don’t have a lot of time to come back to calm yourself down or to step back from an emotional state of mind and make a rational decision later on.

So, for example, if you get a completely unwelcoming email or something like that, you can emotionally be charged but you could decide not to respond to that in real time, right? You can make a rational decision later. But at the poker table, every hand is dealt consecutively, like it’s a continuum, so if you’re not able to shift from an emotional charge from the last hand, to completely present, logical state of mind in the current hand, you’re just going to get killed. So, it really is unforgiving in that way.

But I think one thing that’s helped me do that is to try and have a process that I go through every hand of poker I play, kind of like a tennis player does in a sporting match. So, if you watch them play from one point to another, they might be like really charged up after winning a point, or they might be really frustrated after hitting an easy volley into the net, and they might be pissed or slam their racket. But the next points, inevitably, they come back to the line and they have this little meditation process they go through to get them ready for the next point, mentally, to serve the ball and play optimal tennis.

And so, I’ve tried to apply that same philosophy to my life in poker, and it’s through exercising that muscle that I’ve been able to translate that over into the real world as well. And I’m happy to share some concrete ways I do that, too, if that sounds interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, please. Now, this tennis, in particular, sounds familiar. Was there a book, The Inner Game of Tennis that discussed this matter?

Alec Torelli
Great book.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s ringing a bell. I don’t think I read it. Maybe I read the Blinkist summary.

Alec Torelli
Yeah. Either way it’s a great book.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Understood. Timothy Gallwey, 1997, okay. And I recall from that book or something that that was a key differentiator between championship players and not-so championship players, was the ability to do exactly that. So, let’s hear, hey, in practice, if we want to do a quick reset when necessary, say, “Okay, I’m flustered. I got some feedback which I thought outrageous and unfair,” or, “I feel offended, slighted, dissed, or just anxious, tired, unmotivated, don’t feel like it,” you know, there’s some emotion that’s there, and we can sort of deal with it, process it, think about it, work on it at some point, but, for right now, we got to reset and take care of business. How does one do that?

Alec Torelli
Yeah, and I think you find this in personal life as well. You mentioned just like unmotivated being one of them, like just letting emotion come into your decision-making process in the morning. For example, just like deciding you don’t want to exercise because you’re unmotivated. So, I think this plays out in a lot of facets of life.

I’ll kind of walk you through my process a little bit and then also go through how I have used that to navigate the real world, so bear with me here for a sec. In poker, it’s a little bit different because you’re trying to…you’re just like in a performance state so it’s a little bit more contrived in the sense that, right away, I’m just trying to be like, “Okay, I only have 30 seconds between one hand and another. I have to reset right away.”

So, the first thing I do is just sort of, as cliché as it sounds, just take a deep breath, right? So, when you focus on your breath, or you breathe, you automatically release stress, so that’s just like the first thing to do, and I think it’s just training that muscle that helps you just automatically respond in that way. And then I really am trying to release the charge of the previous hand and focus my process on what I can control.

So, a lot of times when we’re in an emotional state of mind, especially in poker, there’s a lot that’s outside your control. Like, you can’t control what cards you’re dealt, only how you play the hand. So, trying to bring the focus back to what I can control to feel empowered to make a good decision, so I say to myself, I’ll tell myself something positive, I’ll repeat something to myself, a command to myself as I close my eyes for a second, take a deep breath, and I’ll say to myself, “I’m present and focused at the poker table. I care only about what I can control. My goal is to play this next hand the best way possible.”

And so, now I just bring the focus back to something that’s very simple. And, instead of looking outward 100 miles into the future trying to imagine like all these futures that I can’t play for, I’m just looking at, “What is the very next step that I can take? Like, where is my foot going right now?” And where it’s going right now, the only thing that I can really focus on, the only thing I can control, actually, the only thing that exists or matters is the next hand, the current hand, that’s going to be dealt. And if I want to win back the $50,000, $100,000 I just lost in the hand before maybe because I made a mistake, maybe because I got unlucky, the only way I could do it is through this very current next hand.

And I think that mindset really helps and take that mindset with you to the real world as well. Like, maybe there’s this seemingly insurmountable mountain, like you lose your job, or you’re fired, like, “How am I ever going to come back from this relationship I just ended?” or whatever it is. But the only way forward is what you could do this current moment, this next day. And so, instead of focusing on…I mean, it’s good to be prepared like for long-term planning, but just being able to focus on something that you could do tangible right now to kind of bring back your sense of control to the situation and feel empowered, like the action you’re taking matters, really helps setup that domino effect of getting motivated again to make good decisions.

And then, I think when it comes to everyday action, it’s about separating myself from my emotions. So, I talked before about emotional, logical, and intuitive decisions. So, when you’re navigating, I think, your daily life, it’s really important to focus on making logical decisions and not emotional ones. And emotion is something that speaks very loudly in your mind at any current time, like you’re lazy, you’re tired, you don’t feel like exercising, you’re craving something you want to eat, a piece of cake, you’re kind of like, “Oh, I don’t feel like working. I want to watch Netflix.” If you listen to the emotions, it’s easy to get swept away in this current and not ultimately do what’s best for you.

So, what I’d like to do is I like to treat myself like I’m a parent managing a child, and that I’m talking to myself in the third person. So, I’m creating space between my emotions, or my ego, and what I know is my higher self, or what is best for me, and I talk to myself in the third person, and I say, “What should Alec do? Or, Alec, what is the best decision that you can make right now?” And so, I get up in the morning and I don’t feel like exercising, or maybe I need a day off, so it’s not about asking yourself these questions to push yourself to always do the hardest thing. Sometimes the correct answer is taking a day off or eating a piece of pizza because that’s the right thing to do because you need that balance, and that’s fine.

But I’m always trying to focus on the quality of making the right decisions. So, I’ll say, “Alec, what should you do right now? Or, what should you do tomorrow?” As I’m mapping out my day the night before, I’ll say, “What should you do?” And then I’ll write out the things that I know that I need to do that I should do, not the things that I might emotionally want to do in the moment.

And so, this is something that I can come back in real time as I’m making decisions. I was doing this today, for example. I had the choice between spending a couple more hours working on this book I’m writing, or coming home and doing something else. And so, I was kind of confused and I felt emotionally connected to one thing, but I asked myself, “Alec, what should you do right now?” And I realized staying in the library and focusing on writing was more important even though I didn’t really want to do that emotionally. So, I think that really helps to create space and helps me to navigate decisions in a better way.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. So, third person, like a parent to a child.

Alec Torelli
Yeah, you have to do it because sometimes you’re just, at least for me, like so susceptible to, like, “Today I feel unmotivated, or today I feel like doing this, or I don’t feel like doing that, or whatever.” But at the end of the day, you know you’re going to feel better if you do the things that you know, logically, you should do that matter, right? So, I know that if I go through the motions of meditating in the morning, and doing my HIIT Cardio, and taking a cold shower, like having a healthy breakfast. I know in two hours I’m going to feel great, but emotionally, right then before I do all that, I’m looking at these tasks that are on my lists, and I’m like, “I don’t want to do any of that.” But if I listen to emotion, at the end of the day I’m going to feel worse. But if I listen to logic, I’m going to feel worse in the short term. But it’s about optimizing for what I think is the best long-term process so that’s part of the reason why I think that’s important.


Pete Mockaitis
And the question is, “What should you do?” I imagine there’s a number of ways you could articulate that but that’s how you do it, it’s like, “What should you do?”

Alec Torelli
Yeah, or, “What is the best decision?”

Pete Mockaitis
“What is the best decision? What should you do?”

Alec Torelli
Yeah, “What should you do right now?” Like, “What is the best decision?” And sometimes I just close my eyes and I’d pose that question to my subconscious. Like, I’ll just sit on the couch and pose it, and then I’ll think about it for a minute, and I’ll let the answer sort of come to me. I’ll listen for the answer in a way that’s like a little bit more intuitive or maybe it’s something that requires a little bit more thought. I’ll write down some ideas. I’ll just write like a stream of consciousness and write for 30 seconds or a minute.

And usually it’s pretty easy to come to the right answer and you can usually separate out, “I don’t feel like doing this but I know this is what I should do,” type of logic that you can get down on paper, or sometimes you can do it meditatively, or whatever. And I feel like that helps come to that conclusion. But I think it’s about priming yourself for those questions is a good place to start.

And if you’re really honest with yourself, and you listen, I think most of the time you’ll know what the right answer is.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think the “What should you do?” I guess that’s almost like a shorthand, or, “What’s the best decision?” It’s sort of like it’s based on something in terms of like there are embedded criteria, whether it’s your life’s purpose or mission or vision or values or kind of long-term goals that matter to you a whole lot. It’s sort of because that’s the first thing that my mind fires back. It’s like, “Based on what? Under what criteria? Toward what end?” And so, I guess, there’s some pre-work there associated with having some clarity on that such that your current moment decisions are in congruence with that.

Alec Torelli
Yeah. So, in poker, before you make any bets, I always tell my clients to think about what you’re trying to accomplish before you make a bet. So, sometimes, people are like, “Oh, I bet because the other guy checked,” or, “I bet because the action was on me.” But it’s like, “Why are you trying to bet? What are you trying to accomplish?” And I think in the same vein, that sort of applies to life as well, and I call this having my North Star. And that’s really trying to identify, like, “What are the core values in your life that you’re trying to optimize for?” So, like, “What are the important things that the rest of the decisions that you’re making are helping you maximize?”

So, for example, for me, I try and maximize my decisions around the values of freedom, excitement, and choices. And so, I think freedom is like the main one that I’m trying to optimize for, and so I think money is a great tool and it helps, but it helps in terms of achieving more freedom units. So, a lot of times, I’ll perhaps find an opportunity or a situation where I’ll be passing up something that is potentially monetarily rewarding because it lowers my freedom. Like, it’s a big, huge commitment either to an activity or a time or a location or I’d have to be somewhere at a certain time, and like even though that could present a monetary reward, it could lower my freedom. But by understanding your priorities, it helps to maximize your aim.

So, for example, that’s like on the macro, right? Those are like the big decisions that you make structurally in the scope of your life, like what job you’re going to take, or where you’re going to live, or how much you want to have, how much you want your mortgage to be, might affect your ability to travel, which might affect your freedom, like those are some things. But I think, on a micro level, it also is important as well to have your other short-term goals, or maybe your lesser goals.

So, for example, when you go to a restaurant and you say, “What should I order?” If you’re in a period of your life where your macro goal is to lose 10 pounds, well, that might be the way that you decide to optimize those decisions. And so, you might decide to make an ordering decision based on that objective. So, I think it’s about understanding the big picture and then reverse-engineering to make sure the decisions you make are mapped towards your ambitions.

And then, also, being aware that success is not a linear path. It’s not a straight line to your goal. It’s like a curved line where there’s setbacks and ups and downs. So, the idea of trying to lose 10 pounds might mean eating healthy five or six days a week and a couple of times having a pizza even though it’s not, in a vacuum, the best decision to reach your goal of losing 10 pounds, but it’s also about being aware that, “Hey, I’m out with friends on a Friday night, and everybody is having a glass of wine, and we’re enjoying a nice restaurant. Like, I’m going to be okay with not necessarily going the most expedited route to my goals because it’s part of life as well.”

So, it’s about being able to be intuitive in those moments and being, what I call, situationally aware, which is a concept we use often in poker. There’s typically rules that you follow, where like these hands are the correct hands to play in certain situations, but there’s always circumstances where the rules are broken, and I think it’s important to be aware of where those apply in your life as well.

Pete Mockaitis
I also want to get your take on intuition. To what extent should we trust it? How should we use it? And how do you think about it?

Alec Torelli
I think about intuition as the first part of the decision-making process. And so, for example, when I play a hand of poker, I’m typically looking for intuitive read about the situation. And this is something that’s hard to quantify. It doesn’t come from my logical mind. It just comes as a feeling right away. And this happens in real life, too, like when you meet someone for the first time, it’s hard to logically express whether you like them or why. So, you’re not going to say something like, “Oh, well, I like him, or I’m attracted to him, because of his black shirt.” It’s just about their aura, their essence, their personality, the vibe you get. These are all sort of intuitive things. And this is like the first part of the decision-making process. It’s primal. Instinctual.

And then after that, you use logic or reason to confirm your hypothesis, so you might get to know the person better. You might understand their values and see if their priorities or North Star align with yours, and then you might be able to confirm with now your intuitive read. And this is also what I’m doing at the poker table, right? Like, if I have an intuition that my opponent is bluffing, then I’ll analyze their betting patterns and I’ll work my way through the hand to see if their betting patterns confirm this idea that it’s likely that they are bluffing. And, in fact, when my intuition and logic are pointing to the same conclusion, that’s when I feel like I make my best decisions, when both of those things are in harmony. It’s like a marriage of both of those things to make a good decision.

But, lastly, on that subject, I typically find that I don’t always have intuitive reads. I don’t want to overemphasize making intuitive decisions or that you should be like just sort of meditating your way to make a decision in every facet of your life, because most of the time I don’t have intuitive reads. Like, I‘m watching my opponents, I’m looking for betting patterns, or what we call tells, meaning physical actions that allow someone to deduce the strength of your opponent’s hand. But I don’t get that read every hand, right? So, most of the time, I’m making logical decisions, I’m analyzing pros and cons, I’m weighing probabilities, I’m using logic and math and those sorts of things to make my decisions probably 90% of the time.

But the 10% of the time where I do have a strong instinctual read about a situation, a person, a business deal, a relationship, it’s typically right. And it’s the situations in which I override my intuition with logic that I end up paying the price. So, for example, at the poker table, when I really get the gut feeling that my opponent has a very strong hand, I know the right decision is to fold, but I can’t quite explain why logically. And then I start letting my conscious mind override my intuition and talk myself into calling because I try and use logic to kind of like override my intuition. I say, “Well, I can’t fold here because of this,” or, blah, blah, blah. And then I call, and he usually has it.

And I feel like this is true in life as well. Like, when you have a strong feeling, like, “This guy is bad news,” or, “I can’t trust this person,” or, “I shouldn’t go into business with him,” or, “I can’t take on this project,” or, “This job isn’t right for me,” or, “Something about this isn’t right.” That is usually something to listen to, and I feel like it’s the situations where you kind of try to override that by talking yourself into something that you intuitively know is wrong that we end up paying the price. So, that’s a little bit about my relationship with those things and decision-making on and off the felt.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when it comes to, you mentioned the tells, I’m intrigued. Let’s talk for a bit about reading people. To what extent can it be done? Are there any kind of telltale signs that you think are pretty reliable?

Alec Torelli
In poker, yeah. But, unfortunately, they don’t necessarily directly apply to decisions off the felt. So, for example, in poker, a common tell is your opponent’s hands are shaking when they’re betting.

Pete Mockaitis
Because they have happy feet.

Alec Torelli
Yeah, or that’s indicative of a strong hand. That’s a release of tension. They usually have a very good hand. Inversely, when they call a bet very quickly, they act extremely fast, they usually have a weak hand. They’re trying to intimidate you by acting quickly, by saying or conveying the message that, “Hey, look, I’m going to call you right away. I have something,” when, in fact, they don’t.

But, typically, like that specific, those specific actions don’t quite translate to the real world. It’s not like if someone shakes their hand, their hands shake, they’re lying to you or something. This doesn’t work like that. But what I will say is that being forced to interpret body language or basically infer people’s true intentions without words has helped me off the felt as well. And I think it’s a good skillset to practice because, in poker, you’re basically communicating with people that don’t speak your language. It’s sort of like doing that because people aren’t really talking to you.

And even if they are, the words, you can’t trust that the words they’re saying are indicative of their hand strength obviously, right? They’re not obliged to say, “Hey, I have a good hand,” when they have a good hand. Nobody is going to do that. So, you can’t really listen, I mean, you can listen but you can’t really trust that what they’re saying or the information they’re conveying. You have to read into it. And I think that’s a good skillset as well to help get to truths within relationships, avoid potentially problematic situations when you’re able to read people or situations a little bit better because people aren’t always conveying things accurately, sometimes for malicious reasons, other times just for protection. They don’t want to say something to offend you, or to get involved in a hard conversation, or it’s tough for people to express their true feelings. So, being able to read people is like a muscle, I think, that you could exercise, and poker helps you do that.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, with the exercising of it, what are the activities or practices that one does to exercise it?

Alec Torelli
So, there’s not like a specific body language thing that I think correlates, but I think it’s just about being more present and aware of the subtleties when talking to someone and really trying to infer if what they’re saying is representative of how they’re actually feeling and kind of like just being aware of this process, and then looking back on it and analyzing it. I don’t have a great practice for doing this in person, but I think, yeah, in so far that you can try, I think it’s a useful practice to do. I wish I had more, a little bit more of a tangible thing here to do for someone looking to do that off the felt.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it sounds like simply observing and making a note to asking yourself internally, “Is there a congruence and consistency here between what they’re saying verbally and what I’m picking up elsewhere?” and then just sort of make a note of that and look at it later can be handy as opposed to just sort of letting it flow right by in terms of you’re not even kind of paying attention to those non-verbals in the first place.

Alec Torelli
Yeah, and like just kind of starting to observe for and just being conscious of it and then watching for reactions. I mean, your intuitions are usually right. You can tell if someone is giving you a false compliment or if someone genuinely is interested in something you’re saying, right? Like, you were doing this all the time whether we’re aware of it or not, right? Like, if you are talking to someone and their eyes are wandering and they’re looking disinterested. It’s hard to quantify exactly what the tells are for that non being interested in what you’re saying, but you can typically tell if you’re boring someone during your conversation, and then you might change the subject. But you might just do this subconsciously without even thinking about it.

But I think going into the conversation conscious of it and saying, “Okay, what was it that made me realize that that person wasn’t interested in what I was saying? And why did I just change my subject of conversation there? Or, I could tell that person wanted to say something. Why was that? And why did I pause and let him talk?” or whatever it is. So, I think just going into it with a sense of curiosity, I would say, is probably the best word, allows you to kind of explore this a little bit more. And I think people will find that it’s a fun game to play and it’s also quite a useful skill.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now, tell me, Alec, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Alec Torelli
No, this is awesome. This is great.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Alec Torelli
“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. And small minds discuss people.” I think that’s a great quote.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. And how about a favorite book?

Alec Torelli
I think a book that had a big impact on my life, I guess you have to be at the right place for it, is Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar. He’s a professor at Harvard, and I think it’s in Economics, something unrelated completely to this subject. And he taught a course on happiness and it became the most popular course at Harvard, and then he wrote a book about his findings.

He has a subsequent book called Perfect as well about how perfectionism is an unattainable thing that it’s a quest that leads people to be unhappy. But Happier was really good. And I actually went through it and there’s these exercises in the book, and I was at a point where I was in the mood to kind of like do them and be tangible with it. And I found that was a great book.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. And, tell me, how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Alec Torelli
Like, what’s an example?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, some people would say the Trello app is amazing.

Alec Torelli
Trello, I was going to say that. That was the first thing that came to my mind.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, how about that? There’s my intuition, Alec.

Alec Torelli
Okay. Good job. Well, that’s crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, Trello it is.

Alec Torelli
Yes. So, I would say Trello as a good tool, but since I feel like other people might’ve already said that, I will say SaneBox to filter email on Gmail is incredible. So, it allows you to put email in a lot of different folders depending on who sends it, and set reminders, messages go to your inbox at different times. It’s incredible. It completely organizes your email. And one more, I would say, would be some sort of meditation app. And I like Waking Up by Sam Harris, and I think that’s a great tool as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Alec Torelli
I guess I’ve been more interested in meditation recently, and I think looking at some of the effects that it has on long-term meditators and how it changes certain aspects of the brain, and improves memory, and reduces stress, and makes people potentially live longer, I think that was pretty profound and insightful.

Pete Mockaitis
And have you found that to be your experience as you embark upon meditation?

Alec Torelli
So, okay, I’m nowhere near at some super advanced level. I’ve been doing it for four years and I would say the first-year average, like 10 minutes a day, and then 20 minutes a day, and then 30 minutes a day, so that’s kind of been where I’m at. But it’s one of those things that you really, I feel like, at least for me, have to get through this initiation phase. And I feel like a lot of people probably would be inclined to quit before that point.

And so, I think if it’s something that you’re going to start, it would be to commit to doing like at least 30 days to two months, and do like 20 minutes a day every single day. And then don’t start unless you can commit to that because it’s only then when you start to kind of realize, like, “Oh, there’s something here. I’m not just sitting and thinking randomly about nothing, or bored.” But I have noticed there is this sort of tipping point where things start to click, and then it becomes incredibly interesting and insightful and quite productive, profound, I think so. Yeah, I have noticed that. It took a while though.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I’m curious with the word productive there. If you think about all the minutes you’ve spent engaged in meditation as compared to the benefits it’s yielded, would you say that those minutes have paid for themselves? Or what kind of ROI have they delivered?

Alec Torelli
Good question. Yeah, I know it seems counterintuitive, and I thought this in the beginning as well, that typically people are short on time, “Of course, I don’t have time to meditate. I could be doing something more productive.” But I think what meditation really helps you with is focus. And to do anything great, you have to be really, really focused. And so, I think it helps me get clarity in a lot of things, and get re-energized, and really focused on what’s important.

And so, for example, let’s say I’m working all day, and it’s like 2:00 p.m. and I’m kind of tired, I can sit for 5 to 10 minutes, close my eyes and just meditate, and let my mind unwind, and all the thoughts of my day will kind of come out from my subconscious, to like I can kind of watch my thoughts go by. And sometimes in that moment, like letting my thoughts unwind, I will get great ideas. And ideas will come to me that I couldn’t think about during the course of my day because I was actively engaged in all these activities. So, then I’ll sometimes stop meditation and write them down, of course, on Trello, or otherwise, after, my mind will just kind of unwind, and the noise of my mind will unwind, and then I could sit down after that and focus for another two hours.

So, it’s actually like taking a half a step back to take four steps forward. Whereas, if I just try to plug along, at 2:00 o’clock I try to take a break and did something else during that break, even if that break was longer, like a 30-minute break or an hour break, but during that break the state of my mind was engaged still, even if it was not engaged necessarily like learning something, but even just like you’re talking to people or you’re doing activities, and your mind is wandering and thinking while you’re involved in the physical world and doing all these activities, I don’t feel like I rest as much. But if I take 10 minutes, like I’m just charged for another couple of hours. So, I feel like it’s this superpower almost if you get to a little bit of proficiency with it, where it’s just unlocks this potential that I have to be more focused in the activities that I’m doing. You also learn a lot about yourself.

Like, I think there’s a great video by Jay Shetty, who was a meditation monk at one point, and then he’s come back to the business world and is a speaker, that, “Meditation Made Me A Bad Person.” It’s kind of an interesting title because it really forces you to look at some aspects of yourself that you might not have been aware of before. At least for me, I’m realizing, like, “Wow, I typically have these thoughts, and I typically behave this way. Like, these are things that I’d like to change or improve. Or these are some my strengths, and I wasn’t aware of that.”

So, all these things help you be, help you win more in the long term, however you want to look at that, whether it’s productivity or focus or whatever it is. I think it’s a net positive when you add up the minutes and then you look at the increase in productivity. Or if you measure with another metric, like stress or happiness or gratitude or connectivity with other people, all those things are greatly advanced. So, yeah, it’s been awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Alec Torelli
Well, I do have a YouTube with there’s like 500 or 600 videos on poker and ideas and lessons from poker that apply to life and business as well. You can look up Conscious Poker, or just Alec Torelli, and you’ll find it. Otherwise, ConsciousPoker.com if you want to learn poker strategy and get better at the game. But if you are more interested in the lifestyle side of things, I keep a blog at AlecTorelli.com with more of my personal thoughts and content as well.

I’m also very active on social media @AlecTorelli, Instagram, Twitter. Come say hi and shoot me a DM or send me a message or leave me a comment. I do read them all. Let me know you found me on here, I’d love to see it.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Alec Torelli
Just to always try and work on yourself, even if that means looking at things that are sort of hard or uncomfortable or potentially receiving painful feedback from people that are close to you or loved ones, to reframe that as an opportunity for growth, to look at the feedback that’s coming, or potentially even the things that you label as negative as opportunities for growth and challenges to get better, whether that’s a setback, or a demotion, or getting fired, or breakup, or whatever it is.

Instead of looking at it like, “This happened to me,” but perhaps, “This happened for me. And how can I learn from this experience, or grow from this experience, or get better from this experience? And what could I have done differently?” And that’s one of the questions that I always ask myself in poker that’s really helped me off the felt. It’s like, even if I win a hand, or even if things go well, I’m always asking, like, “What could I have done differently? How could I have played this hand better? What decisions could I have made to led to a better result?”

And I think focusing on that process and really looking to improve in every hand you play is a good framework that I think will help on and off the felt. So, I hope that’s a good challenge.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Alec, thanks so much for sharing the good word, and good luck to you.

Alec Torelli
Thank you, Pete. Appreciate it. Thanks for having me.

460: The Fastest Way to Solve Complex Challenges with David Komlos

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

David Komlos says: "It's not the problem you're solving; it's how you're solving the problem."

David Komlos teaches ways to dramatically shorten the process of solving your organization’s most complex challenges.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The 3 types of challenges and how to approach them
  2. The 10-step process to tackle challenges faster and more effectively
  3. How to structure a problem-solving meeting to get the best results

About David 

David Komlos, CEO of Syntegrity, is an entrepreneur, early-stage investor, and speaker who has helped change the way many global leaders approach their top challenges. From Fortune 100 transformation to international aid, content creation in sports and entertainment to improving access to life-saving products, David advises top leaders and enterprises on how to dramatically accelerate solutions and execution on their defining challenges. He frequently speaks on topics related to complexity, fast problem-solving and mobilization, and scaling talent. He lives with his family in Toronto.

Resources Mentioned in this Show:

Thank you, sponsors!

  • The Simple Habit meditation app offers enriching variety for everyone. The first 50 listeners to sign up at SimpleHabit.com/Awesome get 30% off premium subscriptions.
  • ZipRecruiter is the smartest way to hire. You can try them for free at Ziprecruiter.com/HTBA

David Komlos Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
David, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

David Komlos

Such a pleasure, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
You’ve got a book Cracking Complexity. What’s the story here?

David Komlos
Cracking Complexity is basically a book about 18 years of experience on how to get after big challenges quickly, whether you’re a manager, a director, a vice president, somebody who’s writing policy, someone who’s an analyst, someone who’s an up and comer, a high potential. There’s ways in which to get after the defining challenges that move you forward in your career, that make you a big contributor, that make you a great leader. And there’s actually a formula for how to get after big challenges. This book chronicles the formula and gives examples and cases along the way to make it interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I’m thinking back to my strategy consulting days, complexity was almost like a dirty word for us in terms of if a business has a lot of complexity, that usually meant that a lot of mistakes and suboptimal resource allocations were happening. So, when you use the word “complexity” what do you mean by it?

David Komlos
We mean something specific. We mean a multidimensional, lots of moving parts, human challenge. We, actually, borrowed from Dave Snowden from his Cynefin framework where he says there’s a difference between complicated challenges and complex challenges. So, simple challenges, people solve on their own every day by connecting the dots, whether they’ve seen the challenge or not. When you’re dealing with a complicated challenge, it might be new to you, but it’s a solved challenge. It’s challenge that’s been solved many times before.

For example, a simple challenge is driving a car. A complicated challenge is fixing a broken car. You may not know how to do it, but there’s lots of mechanics out there that’s all they do 24/7, 365, right? So, the right approach is to take your broken car to the expert, the mechanic. Same thing when you’re also implementing an accounting software system. Don’t try to figure that yourself, bring in the experts who do that for a living.

Complex challenges are always the defining challenges, whether it’s turning around a product, or saving money, or figuring out a new policy for government, or figuring out how to grow faster as an organization, or gel better as a team, or understand your customers better and deliver a great customer experience. All of those are complex challenges which if there was a playbook, if there was a recipe, if there was a mechanic, so to speak, that you could just take this challenge to, he or she could just fix it like they fix all those other situations, that’d be great, but that doesn’t exist.

So, complex challenges are typically the headscratchers, the ones that you have to figure out fresh each time, and where it’s not just enough to solve with a really good solution, a really good plan, you really need a big group of people bought into the solution if you’re going to see sustainable execution happen, if you’re going to see people change their behavior, do what they’re supposed to do, you need them bought in. You can’t just tell them what to do. You need them bought in.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Sure. Well, could you maybe rattle off three or four or five examples of a complex challenge for us just so we’re really thinking about the same thing here?

David Komlos
Sure. You might be trying to figure out how to stem the opioid epidemic in your state, or you might be trying to figure out how to deal with mental health challenges in your hospital, or you might be trying to figure out how to grow your product faster, capture more market share, or what will customers notice in the customer experience, and how do you get your company or your team to deliver a unified customer experience. Those are examples of complex challenges that are really common whether you’re in a small company, a medium-sized company, a large company, whether you’re in the government. You’re always trying to figure out how to do better more effectively, more efficiently.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Good deal. Thank you. Well, so then, you say that leaders often handle complexity the wrong way, or the linear way. So, could you kind of orient us to what would sort of the linear approach look, sound, feel like versus a non-linear way?

David Komlos
Yes. Well, I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you’re a car company, and you decide that you are going to stand out from all the other car companies by delivering an exceptional experience for people who are buying cars, people who are coming into the store to get their cars maintained or serviced, and that’s the way you’re going to stand out from the crowd, because quality is not necessarily that big a difference these days, right? Many cars are made well.

The linear way to approach this would be to do a lot of research first, and maybe strike a taskforce and have them do research, or call in a market research firm to figure out, like, “What do customers care about in the car-buying process? Or what do customers care about when they walk into a dealership to have their cars serviced?”

You would interview a lot of people. You might take different approaches to interview young people who are buying cars, older people who are buying cars, people who’ve never bought a car, and just ask them to think about how they’d buy a car. You might do a lot of synthesis around what’s going on out there, who the competition is, what kind of new car companies are coming out, what kind of new car companies are allowing you to test cars differently, buy them online, etc.

And then you’d start to get to the point where you’re making recommendations, and level setting other people in your organizations on what you’ve discovered, and then going back to the drawing board to make better recommendations, and doing readouts, and more interviews, and then postulating like, “Well, here’s what I think we should do.”

And then, when you’re done, you would have a persuasion campaign on your hands. Basically, now it’s time to convince everybody who wasn’t involved in my research and interviews and synthesis and thinking, and recommending, and going back to the drawing board. Now, I’ve got to get people on board with what my recommendations are, what my taskforce recommendations are, what my consulting companies’ recommendations are.

And those recommendations would’ve taken a long time to get to, and they may be excellent recommendations. They probably are excellent recommendations but the linear approach to solving basically takes a long while, places the onus on a small group of people, whether it’s an internal group of people or an external group of people, your team or your consulting firm. And by the time you get to the brass tacks, “What should we do to drive a better customer experience?” you have to persuade a lot of people who are not brought along for the ride.

The more novel way to do things, the better way to do things in the face of complex challenges, the non-linear way, is to involve all those people who you would contact for the research, involve all those people you would interview, involve the people who are going to make the decisions, involve the people who are going to make the recommendations, and so on and so forth, all together, all at once.

And by involving them all together all at once, you would basically help them get to a shared understanding of what really matters, what’s really going on, what doesn’t matter so much about customers and what they care about in the car-buying experience, the car-service experience. You’d have a lot of people challenge their assumptions together all in the same room, eyeball to eyeball.

And it would take a fraction of the time where people could collide with one another, if you will, interact with one another, so that by the time they finish coming up with what they think will really move the needle on the car-purchasing and car-servicing customer experience in a way to help your company stand out from the pack, they would not only have cracked the nut, but actually have bought into what they’ve solved, the solution they put in forth.

Pete Mockaitis
So, now, you say all the people, all together, all at once. Now, could that be hundreds or thousands of people?

David Komlos
It could be. Generally speaking, though, from my experience, you want to be working in groups of 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 people all together all at once, and sometimes you have to work with several groups of that size to spread. But, generally speaking, when you bring together a cross section of the organization, and experts, and advisors, and stakeholders from around the organization all together, it takes 30, 40 people to really be representative of the culture and of the system that you’re trying to solve for.

And so, you can actually get to a solution with far fewer people. Then the challenge is, “How do you get all those other people aligned?” And there’s ways to do that that are also faster than what we’re accustomed to by having people interact together in smaller groups but spread across your organization.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I guess I’m thinking, in this car example, so there could be multiple customers and multiple dealers and multiple sales staff at headquarters and multiple marketing people and then so…

David Komlos
And then people like yourself who used to work at management consulting firms or who are in management consulting firms, people who work for car research companies, you might bring someone in from Google, you might bring someone in from a completely different industry who has also shaped a specific customer experience and learned along the way what could work and to spur the innovative thinking.

There’s actually an important concept for your listeners called requisite variety. And what requisite variety says, “Only variety can destroy variety.” That’s really, really important and it’s not buzzword yet. It’s really important, something for the rest of your careers. When you’re dealing with a big challenge, it’s typically a multidimensional, lots of moving parts, kind of challenge. Like this car company trying to improve the consumer experience. You have to be as multidimensional as that challenge if you’re trying to really crack the nut on that challenge. And the way you do that is by tapping into the right variety of people.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. I guess what I’m just sort of imagining here is I think that we could have 20 to 60 dealers alone, or 20 to 60 customers alone. But you’re proposing in this world that we get 20 to 60 people which is everybody across all stakeholders.

David Komlos
Yup, you could. And, again, you don’t have to look at this as something exotic, right? “I’m going to bring together 60 people once and never again.” You could bring together 60 dealers; they want to do better. You can bring together 30 dealers and 30 company people. You can bring together 20 dealers. You know, the nice thing here is that when you’re solving for something important and complex, typically people have a stake in the outcomes, right?

They may see things differently. People may see the car-buying and car-servicing experience and what to do about it differently, whether they’re an owner of a dealership, or the car company, or the sales force, or what have you. But they all share a stake in getting it right. And when you bring a group of people together, they can determine what are the things they have to do together to make a change. They can also determine what are the things they should try.

And when you try different things, when you commit to trying new things, and actually tracking how those new experiments are doing, you can actually double down on the ones that are working, and get rid of the ones that aren’t. And when you double down on the ones that are working, you can spread them to other people who didn’t necessarily have a hand in coming up with that experiment in the first place, you only brought together 50 or 60 people, or 20 or 30 people, or on small teams 10 people. But now that the 10 people have solved for something, and tried something, and it’s worked, that’ll spread much faster.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess I’m still just visualizing the room. I have 20 to 60 people in this room all together all at once, but I could also have 20 to 60 people who are all the same, like all dealers or all customers. So, how is this working?

David Komlos
Yeah, you would want to have, again, the right variety of people. You’d want to have a diverse group of people. So, as a manager, or as a leader, trying to get after a challenge, or if you’re the car company leader who’s tasked with figuring out, “What should the customer experience be?” you should be looking at, “Who are some of the dealers I’m going to bring together? Who are some of the sales folks, some of the marketing folks, some of the folks who’ve done research on buying patterns, and so on and so forth, all together?”

You wouldn’t want to just keep it at just dealers, or just company people, or just sales folks. You’d want to have a diverse group of people who can see the challenge of delivering a better customer experience from every angle.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess what I’m imagining here is if I have a dozen different kinds of stakeholders, then I might only have one, two, three, four of each. And that’s fine?

David Komlos
That is fine. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

David Komlos
Absolutely, Pete, because to solve the challenge, you don’t need 30, 40, 50 people of each particular constituents. You need a handful of individuals. In our book Cracking Complexity we talk about the 12 zones of variety, and all the different characteristics that inform those 12 zones. And when you go through the 12 zones, whether I’m bringing people together from functions, or geographies, or business units, people from the board, or strategy folks, or operational folks, or outside folks, folks like consultants, advisors and so forth, it allows you to think through, “Who should I be bringing into my meetings?” Even in small settings. And you don’t need, as you say, 15, 20, 30. You can have a handful of each constituency to really get after the challenge.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, maybe let’s zoom out a little bit. So, you got a 10-step process here. Could you kind of give us the one or two sentences per step overview of how this goes down? And then we’ll dig into some more.

David Komlos
The first step is to acknowledge the complexity. So, a lot of people would rather not acknowledge that something is multidimensional, is a human challenge, it’s going to be a difficult one. It can’t just be solved the normal way. And so, they go down the wrong path in the approach they take. One thing that we like to say is it’s not the problem you’re solving, it’s how you’re solving the problem.

And so, you have to know what kind of challenge are you up against. And when it’s a complicated challenge, you should bring in the experts. When it’s a complex challenge, you have to take a different approach. That’s the approach that I’ll talk through now. But the first step is to acknowledge that you are dealing with a complex challenge. Same old, same old won’t work on it. You need a different approach.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

David Komlos
The next step, once you know it’s a complex challenge, let’s say it’s about growing faster. You’d want to construct a really, really good question. That’s the second step in the formula. And so, your question could be, “What must we do, starting now and over the next six months, to grow by 15% over the next two years?” Or you could have a different question but it would be a growth-oriented question. And the question serves as the invitation and as the guideline to the people that you’ve invited who we spoke of just previously, those different constituencies.

The third step is to say, “Well, if this is the question that I’m trying to answer, ‘What do have to do over the next three months to grow by 10% or 15% over the next 18 months?’ who are all the right people, who are all the right solvers, what’s the right variety of solvers that I need to target?” And so, when you think through, “Who are all the people I need to target?” you want to think about the usual suspects.

But you also want to think about the non-usual suspects, those people who are inside your organization who don’t necessarily get called into these conversations, like people from the field, for example, or someone who worked for a competitor, or people from outside your organization, like a futurist, or a consultant who may not necessarily have been in that conversation with you had you not thought about targeting all the right variety of people.

The next step is to localize the solvers. So, localize them, bring them together. There’s a lot of really good technology out there to have conversations in small groups, but what we find is face to face on the really important challenges is really important.

And then, the fifth step, is to eliminate the noise. Before you bring people together, you’ve got make sure that you circulate some sort of a fact base, some sort of level-setting language to get people as far as possible even before they get together. You can do that with pre-reads, you can do that with videos, you can have a conference call to level-set folks, you can send out a glossary of terms, you can do all of the above, you can do none of the above. It’s really important though to think about, “How can I get a diverse group of people who don’t necessarily see things the same way, who speak different languages? How can I eliminate some of that noise before we get together knowing that I won’t be able to eliminate all the noise?”

Now, the next step is, once people are together and they know what the question is, they know they’re going to talk about, “What can we do over the next three months to grow faster?” the next step is really important. Don’t pre-determine the agenda. Let your team, whether it’s 6 people, 16 people, 26, 36, 56 people, agree on the topics they think they need to talk about, they think they need to explore in order to answer your question about growing faster.

When you let the people themselves, having brought the right group of people together, when you let them determine what they have to explore, the ownership starts right away, and the engagement starts right away in contrast to pre-determined agendas, which can often bias the outcomes. Then we say, “Put people on a collision course.” What that means is when you bring 20 people together, Pete, or 60 people, or even 10 people, you really have to make sure all of those people are going to interact with each other many times.

So, if you bring together 20 people, you don’t want five people who are really keen on figuring out how to grow faster or how to deliver a better customer experience. You don’t want the five keen people to be talking to each other constantly with the rest of the others checked out pretty much, whether it’s because they’re just not engaged, they may be introverted, not feeling very comfortable contributing in that particular way, for whatever reasons, hierarchy may be dominating, the loudest voices may be dominating.

To put people on a collision course means to make sure that everyone is bumping into everyone many times in conversations. Because if you take a few steps back in the formula, you targeted the right group of people for a specific purpose. You said, “I need these people, the usual suspects and the non-usual suspects if I’m going to solve this fast.” And if you brought them together, if you went to lengths to bring them face to face, make sure that they’re all engaging with each other many times.

Now, another step in the formula is once they’re engaging with each other many times, you want to make sure that you are giving them a kick at the can a variety of times on the same subject. So, if Dave said, “We got to talk about X. We got to talk about Y. We got to talk about Z,” make sure they’re talking about those topics three, four times. Not just one kick at the can, many kicks at the can.

And then we don’t just make sure that people are bumping into each other many times, we don’t just make sure that we’ve got the right group of people talking about the right topics that they’ve identified as the right topics to discuss on a question they all care about, you want to make sure that they’re having really, really candid dialogue. So, what we do and what you can do very easily, whether you’re doing it this way or in small meetings, we assign people to teams on topics as members and critics and observers. And those people play those roles an equal number of times so it’s a fair approach on a variety of topics.

Members, their job is to really advance the topic as far as they can. Critics are in the room. You can think about it as a round table where the members are at the table, there’s a panel of critics sitting right behind them, listening very carefully, and then giving them critique, helping them to do better. And then you can imagine a group of observers at the back of the room just listening, not being able to contribute.

And what we’re really trying to create is a purposeful deliberate controlled explosion amongst all these people, an explosion of brain power. People listening differently, people contributing differently, people hearing each other differently, learning differently, and much more efficiently and effectively having very transparent dialogue, very candid conversation about the things that matter.

So, when you acknowledge the complexity and you form it in the form of a question, and you bring together the right people, you bring them together, you eliminate the noise, you get them telling you what they need to discuss to answer the question, you put them in meetings where they can collide with each other many times, and you have really good dialogue amongst them while they’re colliding, you get clarity and insights and action basically.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s good stuff. Now, let’s see, there’s a few things I want to follow up here now. So, we say construct a really, really good question. What makes a question really, really good? And what are some things to watch out for in that are kind of inadequate when it comes to your questions?

David Komlos
That in itself is a great question.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

David Komlos
Yes. So, you want your questions to embed one or more goals, so, “What do we have to do to hit 20% growth?” It could be, “What do we have to do to hit 30% growth profitably?” It could be, “What do we have to do to double the business while remaining a great place to work or a top employer of choice?” It could be, “How do we ensure all Americans have access to safe and affordable healthcare?” The adjectives that you use have to be very deliberate when you talk about the “we” in the question, “What must we do?” You have to be very specific about who the “we” is. Is it the team? Is it the business unit? Is it the enterprise? Is it the society? You want to be very specific about that.

A good question has a well thought-through time horizon. Is it, “What do we need to do now and over the next 18 months”? Is it, “What do we have to do now and over the next 90 days to get the full benefit out of the merger”? The time horizon is really important because the recommendations that you get is going to be geared towards the time horizon.

And then a good question has stretch goals but not unreasonable goals. A good question has stretch goals that make people feel that they can hit those goals when things have changed in contrast to unreasonable goals which just sort of deter people from wanting to even start to answer the question.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, when it comes to the you’ve got the member, the observer, and the critic, so how does that kind of play out with regard to, okay, you have a sub-topic, sub-committee? Like, could you sort of spell out just sort of how many people are talking about something? And how do you divide those numbers and people into those roles?

David Komlos
Yeah, let’s say you’re in a meeting, you’re having a meeting with 10 people. I would say, “Assign five of them as members, assign three of them as critics, and then assign two of them as observers.” And, of course, those people will change roles when you go to your next topic, right? But on this topic, talking about cost structure, or brand, or message, or segment, or whatever you’re talking about, have five members at the round table, three critics sitting just behind them, listening intently, and two observers near the back, not saying a word, listening very, very carefully.

Let the members have a 15-, 20-minute conversation really digging into the topic, whatever they’re talking about, and then ask them to pause, and then invite the critics for a minute or two each to provide their critique, and they can critique the process, “John seems to be dominating,” or, “I’d like to hear more from Jerry or Mary,” or, “I disagree with that recommendation,” or, “Did you know that?” or, “This worked really well in…” That’s the kind of critique you’re looking for. And make sure you’re not letting the critics become members. You just want them to give the members what they need to hear in order to advance their own conversation when they take the conversation back.

And you want the observers taking notes in the back because they will be given speaking roles, they will be members or critics of other topics as the day progresses, or as your next meeting progresses. And what you’ll find is that the members really, really dig in, they listen really well to what the critics have to say. The critic role is always a very powerful role to really sway the way a team is going always to the positive. It allows the team to sort of step back. It allows people to say, “You know, you’re at 100,000 feet. You need to get down to the ground.” Or it allows people to say, “You went right to detail before stepping back and really understanding the full breadth and depth of the challenge.” The critic role is really important.

And one thing I want your listeners to know is that when you start to assign people as members, critics, and observers, organizations get used to this, you’ll run much more effective meetings, and they’ll become very self-managing. The members are going to want to hear from the critics. The observers at the back will be bursting, waiting for their turn to get to be a member or a critic. It’s a very, very effective way to structure a half-hour meeting, a two-hour meeting, a two-day meeting.

Pete Mockaitis
And when we get the collision course going, I’m curious, people have a natural tendency to sort of just talk to people that they know and they are sort of affiliated with already. What are the means by which you get the collisions to happen?

David Komlos
Okay. So, Pete, I will say at the commercial level, so to speak, the most sophisticated version of the formula, we use algorithms. So, we literally use algorithms to solve for N times, N minus 1 connection points, where N is the number of people. So, if there’s 20 people, there’s 20 times 19 connection points, and we let an algorithm assign people to teams in a way that makes sure that not only are they on the right teams, but they’re going to bump into other people on the other teams as they iterate.

When you don’t have an algorithm, you want to pay attention to who’s on which team as best as you can, and you want to rotate people through a variety of topics during a three-hour meeting, and you want to have a variety of meetings on those same topics. So, I would recommend to your listeners that, let’s say you have a five-point agenda to talk about a specific challenge that you’re trying to address or seize a big opportunity, if you have five topics, cycle through those topics at least twice. And feel free to cycle through those topics three times.

So, you should meet on them one through five, one topic through five, and then do that again, and do that again. And with different people playing member, critic, observer roles on the different teams and rotating, you will have people bumping into each other in the right way, or approximating that as best as possible. And you’ll see a real lift on the cross-pollination and the learning that’s happening from one discussion to the next.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so, understood. Now, there’s a few approaches here that are different from the norm. Could you share a word for the skeptic in terms of some of the eye-popping results that have come about in terms of getting the job done well and more efficiently than traditional approaches?

David Komlos
Yes. So, skeptics deserve to be skeptical.

Pete Mockaitis
And the observers are observing, the skeptics are skepticking.

David Komlos
Yes, exactly, and they deserve to be. I mean, there’s a lot of different mouse traps out there that profess to have solved, you know, for how to go about solving things and just don’t live up to that. Speaking from experience, I would say the good news here is you can try this yourself. So, the next time you’re planning to solve something, you’re planning a meeting, start by inviting some of the non-usual suspects. And, of course, the other people will say, “Why is Bob, or why is Terry being invited to this meeting? They have nothing to do with what we’re talking about.” Invite them nonetheless and be open about that.

Take an iterative approach to the agenda items in your meeting, even if you’ve pre-determined the agenda. If you don’t feel comfortable leading the agenda up to the group, pre-determine the agenda, have a finite number of topics, five, six, seven topics that you want to discuss to get after a challenge, and go through two cycles of meetings, and assign a portion of your people as members, and a portion of them as critics, and judge for yourself. And that’s doing it in a very sort of grassroots brass tacks way.

It only takes two hours or an hour of meeting to see the difference between your normal meetings. And then you will have experimented with something that’s not costing you money to do that you can decide to amplify and do more of if it works. And then if you’re really, really interested, read more about the formula and use it on a larger scale. The only way to get skeptics to not be skeptical is to try something on a small scale and then scale it up.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you’re in the midst of some of these conversations, do you have any favorite prompts or questions or scripts that you find yourself kind of reaching for again and again and again?

David Komlos
Yeah, we counsel people in a few ways. I like that question about prompts. And so, if you don’t have customers in the room, what would your customers say? If you don’t have the regulator in the room, what would the regulator be saying? If you don’t have any naysayers in the room, what would the naysayers and cynics would say? If you don’t, for some reason, have the implementation angle or the PMO in the room, what would they be concerned about, or what would they be saying?

And then one other prompt that we give all the sponsors of the sessions that we do which are usually a day and a half minimum, we say, “It’s okay. It’s totally okay and very, very welcome, in fact, the job of the people who have been convened here is to speak their minds and open their hearts and say everything that needs to be said. The only thing that will be looked down upon is if you don’t say something here, and say at the water cooler two weeks later. Put everything on the table here, not in two weeks. We’re all here. We’re all here together to solve something and get after it, say what has to be said here not later.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

David Komlos
Just that for your listeners, many of us have been conditioned that solving big challenges, whether at the team level, the business unit level, higher up, and getting people to change, that’s an arduous, long life cycle, long task. And what I want people to know is that solving and change can be incredibly fast when you’re approaching the challenge the right way.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

David Komlos
Well, I love the movie The Matrix and I like it when Morpheus says to Neo, “There’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And how about a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

David Komlos
I really love two books, and I don’t know if you’d put them under the guise of research. But I do love Crossing the Chasm and learned a tremendous amount from that book, Geoffrey Moore, the author. And then Jim Collins’ Good to Great is also one that I refer and reflect back on regularly.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

David Komlos
Something that helps me be awesome at my job is a full floor-to-ceiling whiteboard.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. And how about a favorite habit?

David Komlos
Intermittent fasting.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I’ve done that before. Tell me about it.

David Komlos
Well, basically, I eat between noon and 8:00 at night, usually finish around 7:00, and then I don’t eat. I just drink water. And I find that that gets me up in a really good place. The body gets used to it. I’ve got the right level of energy in the morning. I can get a lot of great work done. I’m not wondering about what I’m going to eat. Not even thinking about it. I get right to work or focus on my family. And then when noon hits, I eat.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers and listeners?

David Komlos
Yes, requisite variety. Only variety can destroy variety. That really resonates with people.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

David Komlos
I’d point them to CrackingComplexity.com.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

David Komlos
Bucket your challenges for the rest of your career. For the rest of your career, look through the lens of requisite variety, “Who are all the right people that I need to bring to something, not just the usual suspects?” And when you look through the lens of the right variety of people, you will more often than not bring the right people to the challenge. And that’s half the battle.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, David, thank you for this. I wish you lots of luck with all the complexity you’re cracking, and have a good one.

David Komlos
Thank you, Pete. You, too.